Blacklisted China chipmaker SMIC becomes the world’s second-largest pure-play foundry by revenue — outsells GlobalFoundries and others

Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (SMIC), China’s largest contract chipmaker, this week announced its financial results for the first quarter of 2023. Despite crushing US sanctions, SMIC is now the world’s second-largest pure-play foundry after TSMC. The company managed to outsell GlobalFoundries and UMC, two of the other pure-play foundries, which it used to trail for years. However, it still lags behind IDMs like Intel and Samsung. 

With $1.75 billion revenue for the first quarter, SMIC is ahead of the two other leading pure-play foundries, UMC (which earned $1.71 billion, up 0.8% YoY) and GlobalFoundries (which earned $1.549 billion, down 16% YoY). As a result, SMIC is the No. 2 pure-play foundry in the world for now. 

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null Revenue Profitability Type of Foundry
TSMC $18.87 billion $6.95 billion | net income Pure play
Intel Foundry $4.4 billion -$2.5 billion | operating loss Part of Intel
Samsung $3.38 billion* ? Part of Samsung
SMIC $1.75 billion $71.8 million | profit Pure play
UMC $1.71 billion $327 million | net income Pure play
GlobalFoundries $1.549 billion $174 million | net income Pure play
*Estimate null null null

Two other contract chipmakers — Intel Foundry and Samsung Foundry — are part of multinational conglomerates Intel and Samsung Electronics and serve the needs of their owners as well as third-party customers. In Intel Foundry’s case, well over 90% of its earnings come from Intel itself.  

Intel said that its foundry unit’s revenue was $4.4 billion in the first quarter of 2024, making it the world’s second-largest contract chipmaker by revenue, if you can call it that given that the vast majority of its business is comprised of products it makes for Intel itself. 

As for Samsung Foundry, we estimate that it earned around $3.38 billion: we assumed that SF’s revenue represents about 82% of Samsung’s Device Solutions division revenue, excluding memory, which was around $4.127 billion for both System LSI and Foundry units in Q1 2024. As a result, Samsung Foundry is now the world’s third-largest contract chipmaker by revenue, though its primary client is probably Samsung Electronics itself.

SMIC’s revenue for the first quarter of 2024 was $1.75 billion, up 19.7% year-over-year from $1.462 billion in the same quarter a year ago. This increase is due to increasing orders and production of high-performance processors using the company’s 2nd Generation 7nm-class fabrication process.

However, SMIC’s profitability declined sharply from $231.1 million in Q1 2023 to $71.792 million in Q1 2024 despite increased utilization (80.8% vs 68.1%) and shipments (1.795 million 200-mm equivalent wafers vs 1.252 million 200-mm equivalent wafers). 

The primary reason for lower profitability is SMIC’s massive capital expenditure hike from $2.235 billion in Q1 2024 to $1.259 billion in Q1 2023. Another possible reason is that the company is ramping up production of chips on its 2nd-generation 7nm-class fabrication process, which increases its costs but will naturally drive substantial long-term revenue increases