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China smartphone maker says UK chip plant purchase 'complete'

Wingtech announcement comes weeks after British PM said deal was being reviewed

Wingtech's purchase of Newport Wafer Fab of the U.K. comes amid a global shortage of chips. (Photo courtesy of Wingtech)

TAIPEI -- China's largest smartphone assembler Wingtech Technology on Monday said it has completed its acquisition of the U.K.'s largest chip plant, in a move aimed at securing new sources of semiconductors amid a global supply crunch.

The Chinese company said it received notification last week from Companies House, the U.K. registrar of companies, that ownership of Wales-based Newport Wafer Fab has been transferred to Wingtech subsidiary Nexperia.

"The transfer of the ownership has been completed, and Wintech now indirectly owns the target company [Newport Wafer Fab] 100%," Wingtech said in a filing with the Shanghai stock exchange.

The company bought Newport, which primarily makes automotive-related chips, from Neptune 6 through Nexperia for an undisclosed sum.

Wingtech's announcement comes despite concerns raised in the U.K. over the national security implications of the deal. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had asked his national security adviser to review the deal, while Tom Tugendhat, chair of the foreign affairs select committee, called for the acquisition to be reviewed under the National Security and Investment Act.

Wingtech and U.K. authorities did not immediately respond to Nikkei Asia's requests for comment.

The apparently swift completion of Wingtech's acquisition contrasts with many other foreign chip deals that are still awaiting Chinese and U.K. regulatory approval, including as Nvidia's record $40 billion bid last year to buy SoftBank-controlled chip designer Arm, which is based in the U.K. The bid drew regulatory scrutiny and has not yet received the nod from Chinese authorities.

The deal also comes as major economies from the U.S., Europe, China, Japan, South Korea are gearing up to strengthen onshore semiconductor production amid the unprecedented global chip shortage that hit a swath of industries from PCs to automobiles.

The Newport chip plant should help Wingtech secure more automotive chips, which have been in short supply for the past several months due to the coronavirus pandemic and other factors. The acquisition also came as China's largest contract chipmaker Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. remains blacklisted by the U.S. government, restricting its access to American chip production tools needed to facilitate its tech advancement.

Newport Wafer Fab, however, reported a net loss of 18.61 million pounds ($25.8 million) on revenue of 30.91 million pounds last year. The plant counts Nexperia, Samsung, Motorola and other chip developers as its clients. Wingtech said in the stock exchange filing the money-losing chip plant would have a limited impact on the group's financial performance given its relatively small size. Wingtech's revenue was 51.7 billion yuan ($7.98 billion) in 2020 with a net profit of 2.46 billion yuan, nearly double from a year ago.

Wingtech, founded in 2006 by Zhang Xuezheng, a former STMicroelectronics engineer, is the largest Chinese smartphone assembler. It counts Xiaomi, Oppo and Samsung among its clients. The company has aggressively expanded its footprint in the electronics supply chain from chips to other key components in recent years. This year, Wingtech acquired factories from O-film Tech, a Chinese smartphone camera module maker, after the latter was blacklisted by the U.S. government and removed from Apple's supply chains over its alleged use of forced labor involving China's Uyghur Muslim minority.

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