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Semiconductors

Apple and Ford latest victims of global chip shortage

US auto industry does not see semiconductor crunch unwinding until next year

The chip shortage is expected to depress Apple's sales in the April-June quarter.    © Reuters

NEW YORK -- The global chip shortage has shown no signs of easing, squeezing sales at Apple and Ford Motor and threatening the post-pandemic economic recovery, with a return to normalcy not expected until next year.

Manufacturers had initially anticipated their supply chains would go back to normal by the middle of this year, but a chip plant fire at Renesas Electronics has upended that calculation.   

Apple's revenue soared 54% on the year for the quarter ended March 27 on the strength of 5G iPhones. But the semiconductor crunch is expected to depress sales of tablets and personal computers this quarter.

"We believe supply constraints will have a revenue impact of $3 to $4 billion in the June quarter," Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri said on an earnings call Wednesday.

The hit will amount to only a few percent at the most. Nevertheless, Apple will miss out on a portion of notebook computer and tablet demand fueled by telecommuting and online learning.

The company's revenue has historically experienced April-June downturns as consumers expect new-product rollouts in the fall. 

"However, we believe that the sequential revenue decline from the March quarter to the June quarter will be greater than in prior years," Maestri said.

Ford says it expects to lose half of its planned second-quarter production, costing it 1.1 million vehicles for the year. The automaker had predicted this February that supplies would improve by June, with output set to increase as early as July.

But a March fire at a Renesas chip plant in Japan's Ibaraki Prefecture ensured that the semiconductor shortage would drag on longer.

Nine of Ford's tier 1 suppliers procure chips from the Ibaraki facility, Ford CEO Jim Farley said on an earnings call Wednesday.

Renesas expects to return to full capacity in July, Farley said. Taking into account the lead time for manufacturing electronic parts, as well as the time it takes to ship to the U.S., the supply shortage will persist until summer at the least.

Chief Financial Officer John Lawler said Ford will lose 700,000 vehicles of output in the second quarter, up from 200,000 units in the first quarter. The shortage will impact 200,000 vehicles in the second half. The total reduction is equivalent to 26% of last year's global sales.

"We and many in the industry now believe the global shortage may not be fully resolved until 2022," Lawler said.

Automakers have avoided drawn-out plant shutdowns by opting for piecemeal measures, such as shorter hours and weekend breaks. Yet automotive chip production is concentrated in a limited number of hands, and global production capacity has been tight since before the coronavirus crisis.

Caterpillar is in a relatively better position in terms of parts and inventories. But the construction machinery maker reports that inventories at dealers are running short as Chinese and South American demand picks up.

"There remains the potential for impact later this year," Caterpillar CEO Jim Umpleby said on an earnings call Thursday. Production shortfalls induced by a tight supply chain "might impact our ability to fully meet improving customer demand," Umpleby said.

As auto production stalled during the pandemic, the global automotive semiconductor market declined roughly 20% to $33.3 billion in 2020, according to IHS Markit. The resulting chip shortage has now frustrated plans to ramp up auto output.

Outlooks from chip companies are mixed. While Qualcomm of the U.S. foresees a significant improvement in supplies by year-end, Dutch peer NXP Semiconductors says the crunch will last throughout the year.

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