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The conventional IC packaging capacity shortage is being eased, while the demand for advanced packaging is still strong, creating an inbalance between supply and demand

Editing by Greg Gao

The surging demand for high-end IC continues to drive the global market for advanced semiconductor packaging and testing, meanwhile, the conventional packaging capacity insufficiency has been eased. But the situation is creating a new imbalance in the supply chain.

Since this year's start, the demand for semiconductor products has been on the rise, with the thriving 5G, electric vehicles, and IoT industry. News about product shortages, price increases, capacity expansion has been one after another, fostering the semiconductor assembly and testing market.

Packaging companies see order visibility extended to 2-3 months ahead. Their profitability in the first half of the year has increased substantially.

According to the JW Insights' statistics, the global packaging and testing leader ASE Technology Holding(日月光控股) 's revenue in the second quarter reached NT$126.926 billion($4.57 billion), a quarterly increase of 6% and an annual increase of 18%. 

ASE said at its recent performance briefing that the current market demand is stronger than before, and the capacity in the second half of the year continues to be very tight. It expects the shortage to remain in 2022 and will likely reach the supply and demand balance in 2023.

For semiconductor packaging and test companies in China's mainland, the listed JCET Group(长电科技)reported revenue of RMB13.82 billion($2.13 billion) in the first half of the year, a 15.4% increase of last year's same period. This company, headquartered in Jiangyin, in eastern China's Jiangsu Province, enjoyed a net profit of RMB1.322 billion($204.38 million), a 260.94% increase. The company's net profit in the first half of this year has exceeded the total amount of last year.

Tianshui Huatian Technology(天水华天科技), another major Chinese mainland's IC packaging and test company in Tianshui, western China's Gansu Province, also had 129.49% net profit rise. The same case is with TFME (通富微电). This leading IC assembly and test company in Nantong, eastern China's Jiangsu Province, achieved a record high of revenue and net profit, a year-on-year increase of 51.82% and 219.13% respectively.

However, behind the seemingly strong demand, there are underlying problems in the packaging and testing market.

The packaging industry is transforming and upgrading from traditional packaging (SOT, BGA) to advanced packaging (FC, FIWLP, FOWLP, TSV, SIP). Its market growth rate will be much higher than traditional packaging under the extensive demand for high-end IC for 5G, consumer electronics, IoT, and artificial intelligence.

An industry insider pointed out that the traditional packaging capacity shortage eased with smartphone sales cooling down; The semiconductor raw materials and equipment still limit the advanced packaging capacity, affecting the production of much needed high-end IC for automobile chips. It is expected that the chip shortage will continue until 2022, and even 2023.

A Taiwanese industry expert told JW Insights, "Most of the demand for advanced packaging technologies such as Fan Out/SiP has seasonal cycles, as in smartphones and tablets fields. They usually hit a season-high before the peak consumption season and then begin to decline gradually. 

The Canalys research firm's recent report on the global TWS (true wireless stereo) headset shows that international TWS headset shipments increased merely by 6.4% to 58.3 million in the second quarter of this year, the slowest growth rate over the last three years. The shipment of Apple's AirPods dropped by 25.7% to 15 million in the second quarter.

The mobile phone shipments in China's domestic market continued to be weak. According to data from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, the overall domestic mobile phone shipments in the second quarter fell 27% year-on-year to 76.14 million units. 

As the downstream application market demand declined, it weakened traditional packaging for consumer electronics IC. "The traditional packaging is no longer so tight. Only the high-end packaging capacity is insufficient", an entrepreneur from in southern China told JW Insights,

"However, the mid-to-high-end packaging and testing capacity shortage still has not seen any relief, "he added. Because Malaysia and the Philippines, two major hubs for packaging, still suffer from the Covid-19 comeback and are relatively short of QFN and other mid-to-high-end packages. The advanced packaging capacity will still be limited by the impact of raw materials in the short term.

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