Amid strong customer demand and planned investments to increase capacity, ST expects to achieve around $14.8 billion to $15.3 billion in revenues this year, up by 16% to 20%.
STMicroelectronics has reported solid financial results for 2021, with fourth quarter net revenues reaching $3.56 billion, up 9.9% year-over-year and 11.2% sequentially. For the full year, ST achieved net revenues of $12.76 billion, an increase of 24.9%, while net income increased by 80.8% to $2 billion.
During ST’s earnings results presentation, Jean-Marc Chery, President and Chief Executive Officer, said 2021 was a year marked by strong market demand but still impacted by the pandemic and global semiconductor supply chain constraints.
The 24.9% revenue growth, according to Chery, reflected the “strong performance across all the end markets we address and our engaged customer programs throughout the year. This performance progressively strengthened versus the expectations we provided during the year, despite the challenges faced by the global semiconductor industry supply chain.”
All of ST’s three product groups achieved double-digit growth in 2021. The Automotive and Power Discrete Group (ADG) recorded a 32.5% revenue growth, with both sub-groups, Automotive and Power Discrete, posting double-digit growth. The Analog, MEMS and Sensors (AMS) group recorded an 18.8% revenue growth, with the Analog and MEMS subgroups achieving double-digit growths, driven by continued growth in Imaging product sales.
Revenues for the Microcontrollers and Digital ICs Group (MDG) increased by 24.3%. Microcontrollers, ST’s largest sub-group, reported double-digit growth, partially offset by the expected decrease in RF Communications revenues.
In an interview with EETimes Asia, Chery said 2021 is an unprecedented period—a very challenging year for many industries, especially for the semiconductor industry.
“The shortage of semiconductors that has been experienced globally is related to the fast recovery of the economy following the initial impact of the pandemic. But it is also related to an ongoing transformation of two of the markets we address—automotive and industrial,” he said.
Last year, ST saw unprecedented demand across all geographies for the automotive sector, as the industry continued to rebound from the difficult environment in 2020.
“The rebound was broad-based, across all customers and regions; it was driven by the volume of vehicles produced, the replenishment of inventories across the automotive supply chain and, most importantly, an accelerated transformation of the vehicle industry towards more electrification and digitalization,” said Chery. “Bookings remained strong throughout the year. Backlog visibility is now about 18 months and well above our current and planned 2022 manufacturing capacity.”
The automotive industry is moving to electrification and digitalization, and the changes in car architecture enabled by these two shifts have opened the market to new players across the value chain, changing some of the market’s dynamics and key players, according to Chery. Here, Asia and China, in particular, are finding success.
There was also a very strong demand in the industrial sector—both in high-end and consumer industrial—throughout the year. The industrial market is also undergoing a transformation to meet the challenges of the “green economy”, “smart industry”, “smart cities”, and “smart buildings”. These transformations are boosted by government’s incentives accelerating the changes, according to Chery.
“In terms of demand, factory automation was one of the main drivers, together with power-related applications—including renewable energy; motion control, power tools and home appliances,” he said. “Demand was strong both with distribution as well as OEMs, in line with our approach to be broad in the highly fragmented industrial market. Throughout 2021, inventories of our products at distributors remained lean across all product families, with high inventory turns. Also, point-of-sales were strong across all products and geographies.”
In the personal electronics sector, shipments of smartphones—which continued to be an essential source of social connection and streaming services for entertainment, fitness, gaming, and music—returned to growth, driven by 5G adoption. Demand for accessories was strong throughout the year, with healthy dynamics related to other connected devices such as wearables, tablets, hearables, True Wireless Stereo headsets, and game consoles.
In the communications equipment and computer peripherals, ST saw continued adoption of 5G-related products as well as a sustained demand for PCs, especially notebooks, throughout the year—which also led to the recovery of the hard disk drive market from its decline in 2020.
2022 Performance and Outlook
For the first quarter of 2022, Chery said he expects net revenues to be about $3.5 billion at the mid-point, representing a year-over-year growth of 16.1% and a sequential decrease of 1.6%. Gross margin in Q1 is expected to be about 45% at the mid-point, up 600 basis points year-over-year, and sequentially flat compared with Q421.
“At ST, our strategy stems from the three long-term enablers—Smart Mobility, Power & Energy, and IoT & 5G—that we have already identified and put in place years ago, and which the pandemic has made even more influential,” said Chery. We had seen an acceleration of these trends following the initial phase of the pandemic. And we can confirm that we will continue to see this acceleration also next year.”
Smart Mobility is about helping car manufacturers make driving safer, greener, and more connected for everyone, according to Chery. “It is also about applications that create the supporting infrastructure, such as fast-charging stations for electric cars. We have seen this trend strengthen recently with an even stronger push towards car electrification and digitalization. Government mandates and investment programs across the globe are providing a strong push. We can see this reflected in both the forecasts for the proliferation of electric vehicles, as well as the take up of ADAS features in the coming three years, where the average growth rates have accelerated considerably versus the beginning of 2020. This in turn drives investment in infrastructure such as fast-charging stations and vehicle communication installations,” he explained.
For Power & Energy, the goal is to enable the many different industries to increase energy efficiency everywhere while increasing the use of renewable energy. This increase in efficiency is driven by smarter system designs, making use of the ever more-efficient power semiconductors as well as digital power control solutions.
“Here, again, we see an acceleration supported by government mandates and investment programs in key infrastructure like electricity grids, clean public transport, and the energy transition. China is investing heavily to support this energy transition and the commitment to carbon neutrality, with an acceleration in the use of renewables such as wind, solar, and hydro for electrical energy generation, solar thermal for heating, and biofuels for transport,” said Chery. “And this is all linked to sustainability goals that we as a global community need to achieve. Encouraging the use of renewable energy solutions by making them more cost effective and efficient is a key element where the semiconductor industry can strongly contribute. For example, ST has committed to purchase 100% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2027. This is clearly a focus area for ST, and we are making several strategic investments in this area. We are accelerating our own sustainability effort and committed at the end of last year to become carbon neutral by 2027 – the earliest commitment of any semiconductor company.”
The third enabler, the Internet of Things & 5G, is about supporting the proliferation of smart, connected IoT devices. ST provides the necessary building blocks and the associated development ecosystems to device creators—including microcontrollers (MCUs), sensors, standalone connectivity and security solutions, and the analog and power management products needed for a complete system.
“Once again, we have seen an acceleration since last year—for example, there has been strong growth in the smart home appliances with further acceleration forecast in the coming years. We also see an increase in the investment in infrastructure by the major cloud service providers in the next three years,” said Chery.
“The strategy ST has been following is based on these three enablers and the developments. We make long-term investments in the key technologies needed to support the enabling trends and to contribute to a more sustainable world. The recent acceleration of these trends confirms that we have set the right strategy to serve our customers and the broader interests of society. This year, we remain determined to continue to make ST stronger, outperform the markets we serve, and provide best-in-class service to our customers and partners, while accelerating our own efforts on sustainability.”
Meanwhile, ST expects the global chip shortage to gradually improve in 2022. “But it might not return to ‘normal’ until the first half of 2023,” said Chery. “Our priority is to manage the short term to avoid structural damage linked to the overstretched semiconductor supply chain with our customers. It is a heavy task for all our management.”
For the medium term for 2022 and 2023, ST is starting to discuss its initiatives with its customers or their own initiatives on the lessons learned, and how they can better plan in the future and provide better visibility to the semiconductor supply chain.
“We need to find a way where customers provide the visibility that the semiconductor industry can acknowledge to prepare with risk mitigated with capacity. We are working with them to plan our CAPEX and/or pass the information to our partners,” said Chery.
ST plans to invest about $3.4 billion to $3.6 billion in CAPEX to further increase its production capacity and to support its strategic initiatives. Around $2.1 billion will be set aside for capacity additions and mix change in ST’s manufacturing footprint for its wafer fabs—digital 300mm in Crolles, analog 200mm in Singapore, and SiC 150mm in Catania and Singapore—as well as assembly and test operations.
Meanwhile, about $900 million will be earmarked for strategic investments. “These include the first industrialization line of our new 300mm wafer fab in Agrate, Italy, as well as GaN technology and SiC raw material initiatives,” said Chery. “The remaining part of the CAPEX plan covers the overall maintenance and efficiency improvements of our manufacturing operations and infrastructure, as well as our Carbon Neutrality execution program.”
Amid strong customer demand and with ST’s planned investments to increase capacity, the company expects to achieve around $14.8 billion to $15.3 billion in revenues this year, representing growth of about 16% to 20%.
Stephen Las Marias is the editor of EETimes Asia. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.