This is originally published on electronics.ca publications
The semiconductor manufacturing is most capital intensive business and it is very important to make these investments sustainable in short term in order to ensure profitability in long term. Sustainability of the semiconductor wafer fabs involves being able to keep the fabs in operation 24×7 to reduce the tool idle time and manufacturing semiconductor wafers that meet the growing demand for consumer electronics and military needs.
My recently released book “Mass Capitalism: A Blueprint for Economic Revival”, takes you through the journey of semiconductor manufacturing in U.S. semiconductor industry. The high cost of manufacturing and keeping track with the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) to keep up with progress of Moore’s law forced offshoring of IC packing industry, design engineering services and eventually even the manufacture of semiconductor wafers from United States to Asia. These policies of globalization have resulted in rising trade deficits for the U.S. The replacement of manufacturing sector with relatively low paying service sector jobs has resulted in falling incomes and depreciating middle class in the U.S.
In this way globalization of semiconductor manufacturing resulted into a loss of dominance of the U.S. semiconductor industry and started to make this capital intensive as well as knowledge intensive business unsustainable leading to an early demise of Moore’s law (due to economic limits because of huge capital investments) because of poor return on investments due to poor domestic consumer demand. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the U.S. has been trying to revive its economy by lowering its bench mark interest rates close to 0% and following Quantitative Easing (QE) policies to stimulate its economy. Instead of reviving the economy by boosting domestic consumer demand, the QE policies have instead resulted into growing income disparity as the wages of the middle class haven’t been growing to boost consumer demand.
The growth in domestic demand from increased consumer borrowing due to low interest rates is unsustainable as interest rates cannot remain low forever. Additionally, the low interest rates have not increased domestic investments in the U.S. and instead investors have preferred to get better returns on their investments by investing in countries with higher interest rates like India. Hence, Low bench mark interest rates in developed economies like U.S. and Europe have primarily benefited the wealthy individuals in helping them get cheaper loans on mortgage properties and helping them earn higher incomes through renting these properties. These monetary policies haven’t encouraged the easy money from QE to get invested in domestic economy as investors have preferred to invest for higher yields in countries like India. Hence, QE policies have not been able to solve the problem of unemployment in the U.S. and has mostly created low paying and part time jobs in U.S.
Now that the QE has come to an end and the Fed is on track to raise its rates in mid 2015, the following macroeconomic changes are certain. First, the rising bench mark interest rates will not be able to lure U.S. residents into increased borrowing for mortgaging cars and houses. Additionally, When interest rates rise, the investors who have invested for short term gains in countries like India will move their investments for higher yields to the U.S.. This would put a sudden strain on the Indian rupee (INR). Hence, the net result of rising rates in the US with present monetary policy would be a poor domestic consumer demand in U.S. from decreased borrowing and strain on economies of developing countries like India through rising inflation. These changes would cause a rise in value of USD and depreciation of INR.
The net result would be a rising inflation in India as investors looking for better gains would rush to U.S. for higher returns. The largest withholders of U.S. FOREX viz. China has signed currency swap deals with its major trading partners and performs transactions in Yuan instead of USD. Hence, although USD will rise from foreign investments, U.S. will not be able to reduce its trade deficits through exports as US manufactured goods would become expensive in international markets. As there will be no major buyers for US debt due to bypassing of USD by major withholders of US Forex like China and Russia, the only way ahead forward for the Fed is to reform its current monetary policy so that wages keep track with employee productivity which would reduce US budget deficits. The U.S. has also recently imposed huge tariffs on solar goods from China and Taiwan to boost its domestic manufacturing. Eventually, U.S. will also have to impose tariffs on all foreign goods entering the U.S. to eliminate its trade deficits for revival of domestic manufacturing industry. Without reforming its trade and monetary policies to reduce its trade and budget deficits, any rise in value of USD with rise in Fed’s bench mark interest rates would result into an increase in US twin deficits which would also cause an increase in supply of goods into the an economy, which is suffering from a poor economic demand. This would cause a crash in profits of those corporations when their manufactured goods remain unsold and thereby also crashing the US stock market.
Taking these macroeconomic changes into consideration, India has following things to worry about its “Make in India” plan. The plan to lure foreign investors into India to make India a global semiconductor manufacturing hub like China could fail, if any of these investors are looking for short term gains, as semiconductor investments are long term strategic investments. These investments pay off for any country over a long term and not a short term investments that yield a quick return on investments like financial sector of today’s economy. Hence, Just like TSMC Inc. gets its financial backing from government of Taiwan, Samsung Inc. gets its financial backing from government of South Korea and Globalfoundries Inc. gets backing from government of Abu Dhabi, the upcoming Indian semiconductor fabs should also be sponsored with backing of government of India to make these capital intensive investments sustainable. This approach would minimize any chances of these capital intensive investments becoming unsustainable when investors move their investments out of India for their short term gains due to rise in US interest rates.
These huge capital investments into semiconductor wafer fabs can become sustainable only if there is a solid economic demand for these semiconductor wafers in Indian electronics industry because the economic demand is presently slowing in developing economies. However, If Indian government policies do not encourage consumption of domestic manufactured products and hence if import of foreign manufactured goods continue due to India’s Free trade policies, the trade deficits of India will continue to soar. The government recently passed some strict guidelines to all ministries asking them to give preference to domestically manufactured electronic products. This is a positive step forward aimed at boosting electronics production as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” drive. If trade deficits are allowed to soar, these deficits will put a further strain on already troubled INR. Additionally, the products manufactured by Indian fabs will get consumed domestically only if the wages of Indian citizens keep track with their productivity. This free market monetary policy would also ensure a robust consumer demand for electronic goods in order to keep the fabs in operation 24×7 thereby reducing the idle time of tools. The potential of fabless semiconductor ecosystem in its ability to grow small businesses should be adopted by “Make in India” movement. In this process several macroeconomic reforms should also be advocated because an absence of these macroeconomic reforms have made the fabless semiconductor ecosystem unsustainable for the U.S. contributing to its twin (trade and budget) deficits.
To ensure a good return on its investments by being able to create domestic jobs and to minimize the job loses in economic downturns, a three tier fabless semiconductor business model with decentralized supply chains as proposed in “Mass Capitalism: A Blueprint for Economic Revival” should be adopted by Indian semiconductor industry. This would usher in a competitive free market balanced economy and help Indian economy transition from a developing economy to a developed economy. The trade and budget deficits would be eliminated and ever increasing huge capital investments would make this highly capital intensive business not just sustainable but also very profitable. This is a free market approach to make the investments in semiconductor fabs a success so that India can keep its 2020 projected $400 billion account deficits under control and ensure that its semiconductor manufacturing sector is able to keep track with progress of Moore’s law.
Economy also moves in a systaltic fashion and never in a straight line. Due to this systaltic motion, internal clash and cohesion take places giving rise of economic cycles. The ups and downs of socio-economic life in different phases are sure to take place due to this systaltic principle. Having a balanced economic model will also eliminate the problem of unemployment in economic downturns. In this way excess government spending in economic downturns can be eliminated achieving a true free market economic model for semiconductor industry.