Broadcom’s $2B Trade War Exhortation

Article By : Rick Merritt

China trade tensions will slice $2 billion off its 2019 revenues, Broadcom said in the first big flash in a three-sided conflict where the first casualty likely is the U.S. semiconductor industry.

In its quarterly financial call Thursday, Broadcom said China trade tensions and a ban on business with Huawei are creating “uncertainty in our marketplace,” Reuters reported. It said Huawei makes up $900 million or 4% of Broadcom’s annual sales and that an expected revenue drop “extends beyond one particular customer.”

Broadcom’s dramatic forecast likely sets the dour tone of the next wave of quarterly reports from chip makers.

Huawei is the world’s third largest chip buyer, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association. An analyst told EE Times last week that China’s other OEMs are scrambling to find sources in Europe, Korea, and Japan to protect themselves from getting caught up in the trade war.

However bad the standoff between the Trump Administration and China gets, U.S. chipmakers are the most likely first casualties.

Donald Trump has little to lose from this war. His supporters among working class and rural voters will see this standoff as a sign of strength. Even if China digs in and ratchets up its responses, Trump will only win more sympathy among the support base he depends on for re-election in 2020.

The chip industry may get wounded — perhaps irreparably as supply chains are reformed — but not killed in a trade war. That may be an acceptable loss for President Trump given the companies and the states they are in generally lean to the political left.

For its part, China can survive the loss of Huawei if it comes to that. The trade war is kerosene to fuel China’s strategic drive to build up its chip sector. China politicians also know the Trump Administration’s aggressive moves may further alienate the U.S. from Asian and European allies who have to either turn away from Washington or give in and hurt their own business sectors.

Only the chip industry has nothing to gain from a trade war. Of course, there is a remote possibility China will cave and hand President Trump an agreement that includes an end to demands of tech transfers in exchange for market access and heightened enforcement of intellectual property. But I don’t see what China would get in return from such a deal beyond a new lease on life for Huawei and a major loss of face politically.

Another possibility, noted in a Washington Post report, is the Trump Administration might quietly grant a handful of most affected U.S. chip makers licenses to sell to Huawei, easing the domestic pain.

But I’m not holding my breath. I’m preparing for a long, cold winter.

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