US targets Huawei semiconductor supply chain as 5G battle continues

With muted success in combating the sustained success of the Huawei juggernaut, the US has revealed its latest offensive play; attack the vendors semiconductor supply chain.

The US Department of Commerce announced new rules on Friday (May 15) designed to cause chaos in Huawei’s operations. The move is likely to douse more petrol on flaming tensions between Washington and Beijing, as the US attempts to inhibit Huawei’s ability to source semiconductor components for various products, including smartphones and base stations.

This latest action could take White House intervention beyond US borders, which would complicate matters for Huawei but also place the US at odds with allies.

“Despite the Entity List actions the Department took last year, Huawei and its foreign affiliates have stepped-up efforts to undermine these national security-based restrictions through an indigenization effort,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

“However, that effort is still dependent on US technologies.”

This is the ace card which is held by the US; there probably isn’t a manufacturing site, production facility or office in the world which doesn’t have some form of US technology. The success of the US economy is now a weapon for the political elite; screw us and we’ll mess with your supply chain. It is effectively an economic dirty bomb.

While Huawei might be able to shift its manufacturing capabilities and find new suppliers to replicate the likes of Qorvo or Broadcom, it becomes a lot more difficult to remove every single element of US technology, intellectual property or software from its supply chain. If enforced properly, this could be very damaging to Huawei.

For example, it might shift some of its semiconductor purchasing to an Indian supplier, but if that company uses US software to design elements of the product it is another risk for Huawei as sales to the firm could be blocked by Washington. This is truly a trump card for the US in its continued battle.

The move comes at a time of heightened tension between the US and China which has taken a new twist over the last few months.

President Donald Trump has always found fault with the Chinese, whether it be currency manipulation or making use of Chinese vendor’s products to spy on other nations. This time the coronavirus is taking centre stage, with the US blaming the severity of the pandemic on China’s actions during the first few months, but it of course has nothing to do with the fact the White House ignored the danger of COVID-19 for two months.

The anti-China rhetoric in the US does seem to be heightening. Missouri’s Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit against the Chinese Government in pursuit of compensation from the Chinese Government. There are numerous other lawsuits floating around, including a class action lawsuit from the Berman Law Group which is attempting to claim the Chinese Communist Party is not entitled to immunity as it is not a foreign government or an official agency of the Chinese Government.

Legal experts have suggested these lawsuits will fail, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 states governments cannot be sued, but it can serve as a temperature test for the political administration.

With sentiment once again turning against the Chinese in the US, the White House is effectively being given an endorsement to be combative with the Chinese Government. Unfortunately for Huawei, this could mean the current sanctions enforced to the letter of the law, as well as further actions being taken against the firm in the future.

MediaTek defends itself after benchmark cheating accusations

After reports emerged suggesting MediaTek has been cheating the benchmarking system, the chipset manufacturer has vehemently defending its position.

It has been alleged in AnandTech that MediaTek has been cheating the mobile enthusiasts with some clever code. In the firmware files, references were found tying benchmark apps to a so-called ‘sports mode’. When triggered (if a benchmark app has been initiated), features on the phone were ramped up to give the impression of better performance.

AnandTech claims the cheating was brought to light thanks to testing two different OPPO Reno 3 devices. The Reno 3 Pro (the European version) beat the Reno 3 (the Chinese version) in the PCMark benchmark utility, despite its Helio P95’s Cortex-A75 CPU cores being two generations older than the Dimensity 1000L’s Cortex-A77 CPU cores. And not only did the Reno 3 Pro has older MediaSet chipsets than the Reno 3 devices, it had half as many.

The difference in the test results were slightly unusual, though when a ‘stealth’ benchmark apps were used, the lower results were confirmed.

Why those in the industry feel it is necessary to cheat benchmarking tests is anybody’s guess. The negatives of being caught far outweigh the gains of impressing a few hyper-geeks, and the cheaters eventually get caught. It is embarrassing and some might ask whether they are a reliable partner. The chipsets in questions have been used in OPPO, Vivo, Xiaomi and Sony devices.

Following the original statement, which you can see at the foot of the article, an expanded blog post was offered to the industry.

“We do find it interesting that AnandTech has called into question the benchmarking optimizations on MediaTek powered devices, when these types of configurations are widely practiced across the industry,” MediaTek said. “If they were to review other devices, they would see, as we have, that our key competitor has chipsets that operate in the exact same way – what AnandTech has deemed cheating on device benchmarking tests.”

Although this is a very reasonable explanation, it is still a bit fishy. It is perfectly understandable for performance to be ramped up for some applications, but the fact the ‘sports mode’ has been linked to the initiation of a benchmarking app as well as other functions (gaming for instance) suggests the aim is to fool the tests. Most reasonable individuals would assume these tests are performed in ‘normal’ mode.

Whether this is an adequate explanation, we’ll let the court of public opinion decide, but it is somewhat of a flimsy excuse.

Original MediaTek statement:

MediaTek follows accepted industry standards and is confident that benchmarking tests accurately represent the capabilities of our chipsets. We work closely with global device makers when it comes to testing and benchmarking devices powered by our chipsets, but ultimately brands have the flexibility to configure their own devices as they see fit. Many companies design devices to run on the highest possible performance levels when benchmarking tests are running in order to show the full capabilities of the chipset. This reveals what the upper end of performance capabilities are on any given chipset.

Of course, in real world scenarios there are a multitude of factors that will determine how chipsets perform. MediaTek’s chipsets are designed to optimize power and performance to provide the best user experience possible while maximizing battery life. If someone is running a compute-intensive program like a demanding game, the chipset will intelligently adapt to computing patterns to deliver sustained performance. This means that a user will see different levels of performance from different apps as the chipset dynamically manages the CPU, GPU and memory resources according to the power and performance that is required for a great user experience. Additionally, some brands have different types of modes turned on in different regions so device performance can vary based on regional market requirements.

We believe that showcasing the full capabilities of a chipset in benchmarking tests is in line with the practices of other companies and gives consumers an accurate picture of device performance.

First the Entity List, now COVID-19, the semiconductor segment is picking up bruises

Having recovered from the impact of Huawei’s entry onto the Entity List, the semiconductor industry has been dealt another blow with COVID-19 impacting supply chains and product launches.

In May 2019, Huawei was added to the US Entity List. This was a nightmare scenario for numerous semiconductor firms, as the worlds’ second most popular smartphone manufacturer faced a significant threat to its existence. Suppliers to Huawei groaned, as their fortunes looked to turn to dust, though this saga was seemingly in the past.

With the US Government continuing to delay the ban on working with Huawei, while also being more generous than previously imagined with exception licences, it might have looked like business as usual. Share prices were slashed in the summer, but seemingly recovered over the latter stages of 2019 only for the coronavirus to threaten the success of the smartphone segment.

Share price is not a perfect measure of success, but it is a pretty accurate one. The table below demonstrates the sorrows of the semiconductor sector quite effectively:

Share Price
Company September 30, 2019 January 3, 2020 Three-month change March 30, 2020 Three-month change
Xilinx 95.90 99.31 +3.56% 77.95 -21.1%
Qualcomm 76.28 87.02 +14.08% 68.74 -20.75%
Micron Technology 42.85 54.53 +27.26% 44.68 -17.78%
Broadcom 276.07 314.19 +13.81% 239.93 -23.56%
Texas Instruments 129.24 127.85 -1.08% 102.98 -19.44%
Taiwan Semiconductor 280 339 +21.07% 267.5 -21.09%
Nvidia 174.07 236.85 +35.62% 261.95 +10.97%
AMD 28.99 48.60 +71.67% 48.27 -0.8%
Analog Devices 111.73 118.31 +5.89% 89.86 -24.01%
ON Semiconductor 19.21 24.69 +28.53% 13.06 -46.78%

NB: Share prices accurate at time of writing (4pm, March 30, 2020)

As you can see from the selection of semiconductor firms above, the only two who have escaped the last three months without too much damage are AMD and Nvidia. These are two companies who serve the gaming segment, which is proving incredibly popular in these times of self-isolation.

This success is of course driven by the continued shipments and sales of products, though as China is reopening, the immediate threat to the supply chain is contained. On the mobile side, the smartphone industry is suffering.

According to Counterpoint Research, smartphone sales across the world fell 14% year-on-year in February, which is not as bad as some may have feared, but no-one can give a definitive answer as to when this outbreak will subside.

In China, offline sales declined by 50% though these numbers were slightly offset by online sales. Overall, sales in China declined by 38% in February year-on-year, perhaps indicating what the rest of the world has to look forward to two to three months deep into the impact of COVID-19.

Looking around the industry, impact to Samsung has been minimal as much of its supply chain remains outside China, but the same cannot be said for its rivals. The Chinese manufacturers would have struggled, though companies like Apple have also suffered. Apple has been relatively quiet so far, though the fact that Foxconn, one of Apple’s most important suppliers, reported a 23.7% fall in profit this week suggests there is less demand from the iGiant.

The next couple of weeks could certainly make a significant dent in the profits of the smartphone industry, and as a result, the semiconductor segment. With the high street closed, supply chains under threat, device launches delayed and consumers spending less under the threat of a recession, the prospects do not look the most attractive.

Intel sets new record with $72bn 2019 revenues

Chip giant Intel has set a new record for full-year revenues, collecting $72 billion across the course of 2019.

For the final three months of the year, Intel brought in revenues of $20.2 billion, an increase of 8% year-on-year, while sales for the 12 months can in at $72 billion, a 2% increase compared to 2018. Net income remained flat for the year at $21 billion.

“In 2019, we gained share in an expanded addressable market that demands more performance to process, move and store data,” said CEO Bob Swan.

“One year into our long-term financial plan, we have outperformed our revenue and EPS expectations. Looking ahead, we are investing to win the technology inflections of the future, play a bigger role in the success of our customers and increase shareholder returns.”

Although Intel has faced its difficulties over the last few years, it seems shareholders are very pleased with performance, a month into Swan’s tenure. Share price has jumped 19% over the course of the last six months, including a 5.5% increase in overnight trading since the results have been announced.

Looking at the individual business units, the Data Centre Group revenues increased to $23.5 billion across the year, up 2%. The IOT business unit brought in $3.8 billion, up 11% compared to 2019. The PC-centric business increased revenues 2% in the final quarter, but performance was flat across the year bringing in $37.1 billion.

Under intense competition from the likes of Advanced Micro Devices though it appears enthusiasm for product launches at CES earlier this month have been backed up on the spreadsheets.

Imagination re-wins Apple as customer

Almost three years ago, Apple decided it could get by without Imagination Technologies as a supplier, but 2020 gets off to a flier for the UK chip firm resigning a licencing agreement.

Details are thin on the ground for the moment, though this completes a very circular story for the Hertfordshire-based company. Imagination Technologies has now confirmed Apple has signed a multi-year agreement to access a “wider range of Imagination’s intellectual property”.

The original deal between the pair was signed in 2014, though it only took three years for Apple to decide it wanted to move operations in-house. This is becoming an increasingly common tactic for the iLeader, the acquisition of Intel’s 5G modem business is another example, though it seems Apple was not able to replicate the success of Imagination Technologies’ graphics cards.

Although Apple is still a highly profitable company, slowing growth and increased costs for the iPhone have presented a problem on the spreadsheets. As a result, CEO Tim Cook has attempted to supercharge the ‘software and services’ division to generate momentum, while bringing more of the supply chain in-house is another way to create efficiencies and profits. Imagination was a victim of the latter.

As a result of losing Apple as a customer, and more than half of the company’s annual revenues which were tied to the firm, Imagination Technologies saw its share price plummet 70% and eventually have to succumb to being sold to Canyon Bridge, a Chinese-backed private equity firm, for £550 million. At the peak of its powers, Imagination Technologies was worth more than £2 billion.

The agreement with Apple comes a month after the launch of the A-Series chipset, which Imagination Technologies CEO Ron Black described as the “most important GPU launch” in 15 years. This is of course little more than posturing from the CEO, though Apple clearly bought into the buzz, that or it figured out that designing and manufacturing GPUs is more difficult than it first thought.

Samsung smartphone recovery overshadowed by semiconductor gloom

Samsung’s Q3 2019 numbers show improved performance in the smartphone business, but the semiconductor sector remains weak, which contributed to the 56% decrease in corporate level operating profit.

Overall the company has delivered sequential improvement over Q2. Total revenues stood at KRW 62 trillion ($53 billion), representing a 10% QoQ improvement despite being 5% lower than the same quarter a year ago. The corporate level operating profit of KRW 7.78 trillion ($6.7 billion) was 56% lower than a year ago, albeit registering a growth of 18% over the previous quarter.

The IT & Mobile communications group, which includes the smartphone and mobile network businesses, now the biggest revenue generator of the company, delivered the strongest recovery. Total income from mobile handsets, predominantly smartphones, amounted to KRW 28.1 trillion ($24 billion), a 17% increase over a year ago, and 16% over last quarter.

More impressive was the profit growth: operating profit at the business group level grew by 31.5% year-on-year, and 87% quarter-on-quarter. The company attributed the profit improvement to “a product mix improvement and cost reduction after a lineup transition” including contributing from the new phablet Note 10 as well as the entry level A series. The “extended technology leadership via launch of Galaxy Fold and additional 5G models” also helped. At the last IFA show in September Samsung announced it had already shipped 2 million 5G phones and expected the volume to exceed 4 million by the end of 2019. Samsung is believed to have increased its smartphone market share to 21%, retaining the global leadership.

In contrast to the smartphone business’s recovery was the continued depressed performance of the Device Solutions group, which includes the semiconductors and display panel businesses, and is by far Samsung’s biggest profit generator. To illustrate the importance of this group to Samsung’s overall performance, the group level revenue, KRW 26.64 trillion ($23 billion), represented 43% of the company’s total revenue, but the operating profit, KRW 4.24 trillion ($3.6 billion), accounted for 55% of the total operating profit of Samsung Electronics, at a 16% operating margin. In comparison, the IT & Mobile group’s operating margin was at less than 10%.

The memory chip sector was particularly weak, where the revenues went down by 37% from a year ago to reach $13.26 trillion ($11 billion) although it was an 8% improvement from last quarter. The operating profit collapsed to KRW 3.05 trillion ($2.6 billion), a mere 22% of the level a year ago, and also more than 10% drop from an already weak Q2. This indicated increased demand for shipment but at depressed price levels.

Looking at Q4 and 2020, Samsung believes 5G will have a big impact on the company’s performance. It foresees that the profitability of the smartphone business will continue to be a challenge in Q4 “due to weaker mix from dissipating new model effects of Note 10 and increased marketing cost under strong seasonality”. For 2020 this group will “enhance competitiveness throughout entire lineup and by addressing growing 5G demand; strengthen foundation for further sales growth, mainly driven by foldable; expand sales of premium models and optimize operations for low-end to mid-range models to improve profitability.”

For the semiconductor sector, Samsung expects the demand for memory chips to be solid in Q4 as clients are replenishing inventory again, although it does note “uncertainties likely to linger due to issues in the external environment.” The system large-scale integration (S.LSI) business expects growth in “shipments of 5G 1-Chip SoC and 64Mp & 108Mp high-resolution image sensors”.

2020 forecast to be rebound year for semiconductors thanks to 5G

Looking at the fortunes of some of the major players in the semiconductor market, this is a segment which looks like it might need a bit of luck. Fortunately, 5G is just around the corner.

AMD’s latest results saw revenues take a dive 13%, Samsung has just forecast a 56.17% year-on-year decline in profit for its next quarter and Intel’s latest three-month financials saw a revenue dip of 3% year-on-year. These are only a few examples, but the market has had somewhat of a torrid 2019, however change is on the horizon.

“Throughout the history of the semiconductor industry, every market downturn has ended with the arrival of a technical innovation that spurred a major increase in demand,” said Len Jelinek, Senior Director at IHS Markit Technology.

“In the past, these innovations have had momentous impacts, such as the advent of the world wide web or the introduction of the iPhone. Now another historic innovation is set will take its place among these advances; 5G.”

With every new 5G network which is launched by a telco around the world, the future looks a little bit brighter for the semiconductor industry. The more widespread the 5G connectivity euphoria, the more likely adoption of 5G smartphones. The introduction of 5G networks could force consumers towards a refreshment cycle, and in turn, this will reinvigorate the semiconductor segment.

According to the latest Application Market Forecast Tool report from IHS Markit, the semiconductor market revenues plunged by 12.8% over the course of 2019, though this will rebound with 5.9% growth in 2020. Total revenue could rise to as much as $448 billion next year, up from $422.8 billion in 2019.

However, this might only be the beginning. While 4G encouraged the mass market adoption of mobile broadband, 5G is about connectivity everywhere and anywhere, in anything and everything. The prospects of the semiconductor industry are not only buoyed by increased smartphone sales, but the idea of connectivity and intelligence being embedded within almost every product you could imagine. TVs, fridges, lampposts, cars, toilets, shipping containers, vending machines. If you can think of it, it might have a chip in it.

It is of course early days in the 5G era, and there is plenty which can still go wrong, but for those executives who are dreading the ear-bashing from shareholders, market recovery might not be that far away.

Micron earnings devastated by US/China conflict

Micron Technologies unveiled fourth quarter and full-year financials for 2019, with the on-going tension between the US and China shattering the spreadsheets with distressing effect.

The company, which is a US producer of advanced semiconductor products, is one of the unfortunate victims of the US/China trade war. Like many other technology companies who are a supplier to Huawei, the on-going saga is having a catastrophic impact on financials. Unless there is a resolution on the horizon, Micron could look like a very different business in the very near future.

“We have applied for licenses with the Department of Commerce that would allow us to ship additional products, but there have been no decisions on licenses to date,” said CEO Sanjay Mehrotra during the earnings call.

“We see ongoing uncertainty surrounding US China trade negotiations. If the Entity List restrictions against Huawei continue and we are unable to get licenses, we could see a worsening decline in our sales to Huawei over the coming quarters.”

A word of warning for those who do not like are of a delicate disposition, the numbers being quoted below are not pretty.

Total revenues for the final quarter of 2019 stood at $4.87 billion. This is a slight increase quarter-on-quarter, but down roughly 43% compared to the $8.44 billion brought in for Q4 2018. Net income came to $561 billion for the three-month period, compared to $4.33 billion in the same period of 2018.

For the full-year, revenues stood at $23.406 billion compared to $30.391 billion across 2018, while net income dropped to $6.313 down from $14.135 billion.

President Donald Trump might well be pursuing national security, assuming you believe the statements, though that will come as little comfort for any of Micron’s employees, investors or suppliers.

Mehrotra has attempted to put as positive a spin as possible on these results, but it is a very difficult sell. The markets are looking positive for the business if you ignore the omission of Huawei as a customer, but it is very difficult to avoid the fact the company will make less money if it is not allowed to do business with the Chinese firm.

What is worth noting is that the business is slightly prepared for this nightmare scenario. The team have put in the work to prepare the organization, and as such, Micron actually delivered beyond analyst expectations for the quarter. That said, with share price declining 9.5% since the earnings call, it is clearly not a favourable position.

And Micron is not alone in this sticky position.

Skyworks Solutions, a supplier of semiconductors to Huawei, reported revenues of $767 million during the latest financial results, compared to $894.3 million in the previous year. The decision to ban work with Huawei only came a few weeks prior to this earnings call, and we suspect the financial hole will be substantially bigger come the next time Skyworks Solutions addresses investors.

Finisar is another US firm which saw revenues decrease to $285 million from $317.3 million year-on-year owing to challenging macro-economic environment. Qorvo is one firm which has seemingly survived the first waves of conflict, though it is forecast to have an impact soon enough.

“Ultimately, we were able to begin shipments of certain products [To Huawei] late in the quarter and we have applied for a license to expand the products we can sell,” Qorvo CEO Robert Bruggeworth said during the earnings call in August.

“We will continue to support them consistent with all applicable legal requirements. Finally, as our June quarter and September guidance demonstrate, we are effectively navigating a challenging environment and our products and technology continue to support solid sustainable results.”

Qorvo is forecasting revenues of $745 million to $765 million during the three-month period we are currently in. This would compare to $884.4 million which was brought in for the same quarter of 2018, prior to the Huawei misery.

And while these companies are applying for licences to work with Huawei while simultaneously praying for an end to the conflict, the chaos might continue well into the future.

Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei has recently said Huawei has begun the production of 5G base stations which do not contain any US component.

“We carried out the testing in August and September, and from October on we will start scale production,” Ren said.

This is something which should be viewed as worst-case scenario for everyone involved from the US side of the conflict. If you are of a sceptical nature and believe the tension has been heightened by Trump as a means to demonstrate US power to gain an edge in trade talks, Huawei surviving is a bad outcome. Another bad outcome is Huawei surviving and then restructuring its supply chain to removal any US suppliers.

Ren has initially said it would start production of base stations free of US components immediately, targeting 5,000 a month. Huawei is currently targeting the production of 600,000 base stations this year, scaling up to 1.5 million in 2020, though it is unknown how many of these will be with or without US components.

If Huawei can operate without any US suppliers in the supply chain, then it becomes a much more stable company. It is also an outcome which would please the Chinese Government considering the ‘Made in China 2025’ plan. This strategy aims to move China away from being the world’s ‘factory’ and move to producing higher value products and services.

And finally, onto President Trump, this is a disastrous outcome. The White House perhaps implemented this aggression towards Huawei to make the company falter and demonstrate power. If Ren is to be believed, Huawei will have negotiated the turbulent times and come out the other side without the need for US suppliers. The quality of the supply chain alternatives remains to be seen however.

Prior to this chapter of the saga, US firms were making profits from Huawei’s success; this might not be the case anymore.

Samsung unveils its first 5G integrated chipset for smartphones

Samsung Electronics introduced Exynos 980, its first 5G integrated mobile chipset for the mainstream market. Mass production will start by the end of the year.

Samsung’s 5G devices have so far been using separate modem and APE solutions, including its own Exynos 9820 and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 chipsets teamed up with the Exynos 5100 and Snapdragon X50 modems. The new 5G integrated chipset announced today is Samsung’s first. With an 8nm footprint, the chipset combines the 5G modem and APE processors using 8nm FinFET process.

“With the introduction of our 5G modem last year, Samsung has been driving in the 5G revolution and paved the way towards the next step in mobility,” said Ben Hur, VP of System LSI marketing at Samsung Electronics. “With the 5G-integrated Exynos 980, Samsung is pushing to make 5G more accessible to a wider range of users and continues to lead innovation in the mobile 5G market.”

The chipset’s key specifications include:

  • Modem: supports 5G NR Sub-6GHz with max 2.55Gbps downlink and 1.28Gbps uplink speeds. It is also backward compatible with LTE, 3G, and 2G.
  • CPU: one 2.2GHz Dual-core based on Cortex-A77, and one set of 1.8GHz Hexa-core based on Cortex-A55. It may be worth noting that Samsung’s high-end Exynos 9820 can go up to a max speed of 2.73 GHz.
  • Camera support: single-camera up to 108Mp, or dual-camera 20MP+20MP. Samsung also stresses the integrated AI capability to support photo taking.
  • Video support: 4K UHD 120fps encoding and decoding with HEVC(H.265), H.264, VP9

Samsung said in the announcement that the mass production of Exynos 980 is expected to start by the end of this year, indicating Samsung 5G smartphones and tablets based on this new chipset will hit the market in the first half of 2020, if not the first quarter.

One day earlier, Samsung announced Galaxy A90 5G, a mid-range 5G smartphone, based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 platform, which is aimed at taking 5G to the mainstream users. The new Exynos 980 is likely to power the next generation of mid-range devices.

The 5G momentum in South Korea, Samsung’s home market, has been going strong. After registering 1 million subscribers by the beginning of June, government data showed that by the end of July the total number of 5G subscribers, from all three operators combined, already topped 2 million.

Here is Exynos 980’s promotion video:

 

Sources: White House holds off Huawei reprieve after China counter-punch

US suppliers are still staring into the abyss as reports emerge the US Government has halted its special-permissions programme to work with Huawei due to Chinese retaliation.

According to Bloomberg, applications for special-licenses to continue supplying Huawei with US components, products and services are currently on hold, as the US Government ponders the latest counter-move from the Chinese Government; a halt to purchases of US agricultural equipment.

Just as there was a moment to celebrate, dozens of US firms are now allegedly back to square one.

The licenses themselves have proved to be popular, with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross suggesting his department had received 50 applications, as of last week. This is not to say 50 companies will be given permission, the US Government has hinted the majority will be turned down, though it is back to purgatory the suppliers go.

Entry onto the Entity List has caused a significant headache for numerous parties around the world. Not only do the US suppliers have to figure out where they are going to recapture lost revenues, but potential customers in other markets have to assess the quality and resilience of the products following a disruption to the supply-chain.

Last month, Ross announced the Commerce Department would start accepting applications for licenses to receive permission to trade with Huawei. That said, no advice was offered on the criteria said applications would be measured against, aside from an ill-defined reference to national security.

What is also worth noting is the mentality of those considering the applications. Refusal would be front of mind, unless the application was compelling enough.

However, this has all been turned upside-down.

We might have been expecting retaliation from Chinese Government, though few would have assumed the White House would snap the olive branch extended to US suppliers who are losing a major customer. This is allegedly what is happening today.

This tit-for-tat trade battle has now entered the realms of finger pointing. Trump has suggested he would loosen controls on Huawei if China increased purchases of US agricultural equipment. China has stopped purchases because the noose is still firm grasped, but the US is not willing to let go because China has not ramped up its purchases.

It’s a Mexican stand-off with private companies, in both countries, feeling the pain of government posturing and flexing, as egos are massaged by enablers and yes-men looking to gain favour with short-sighted and morally-bankrupt politicians.

Looking at the collateral damage, numerous US technology companies saw share price decline following the rumours. Skyworks Solutions, where 10% of revenues are attributable to Huawei, recently reported quarterly earnings with a $127 million hole in the spreadsheets. Total revenues were 16% down in comparison to the same period of 2018, prior to the Huawei headache.

Interestingly enough, there are several companies who have publicly stated they have applied for licences. Micron and Xilinx, two US semiconductor companies, have said the license is key as their role in the supply chain can be replaced by a foreign alternative.

If the rhetoric of the trade-war is to help US companies in the long-run, the very opposite is being done with these two organisations; once they are out of the supply chain, it will be very difficult to get back in. Most likely the only way will be to renegotiate contracts at less favourable rates to convince Huawei to ditch newly found alternatives.

Google is another which will pray for the end of the trade-war and ban on supplying Huawei due to the emergence of Harmony OS, the Chinese vendors in-house OS which could be applied to smartphones and smart devices. The emergence of another contender in the OS segment could lead to Google losing real-estate on millions (if not billions) of devices for its products such as Google Play, Chrome and Google Maps.

Right now, it is difficult to see this trade-war as anything more than a battle of egos. It was supposed to counter nefarious activities of the Chinese Government, creating a platform for US companies to thrive. However, with alternatives being sought and created, the temporary damage could turn permanent very quickly.

US suppliers do not want to permanently lose a lucrative position in the supply chain of one of the worlds’ fastest growing technology companies, though that is the reality some will have to face.