Is Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSM) The Backbone of AI Chip Manufacturing?

The semiconductor industry is experiencing an unprecedented buzz at the moment. In March, KPMG unveiled its 2024 Global Semiconductor Industry Outlook after surveying 172 executives in the field. A staggering 85% of these individuals projected a double-digit increase in the industry’s revenue in 2024.

The automotive industry, artificial intelligence (AI), and microprocessors remain the primary catalysts for growth in the semiconductor sector. Notably, NVIDIA Corporation (NVDA), a leading vendor of graphics processing unit (GPU) components essential to powering cutting-edge AI systems, has emerged as a prominent beneficiary due to its strong market position.

Another tech stock, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited (TSM), also seems well-positioned to ride the AI wave. Also known as TSMC, the company is the largest contract semiconductor foundry globally, with a market cap of $705.69 billion. It oversees production for many renowned chip designers, such as NVDA, Apple Inc. (AAPL), and Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD).

TSM is dominant in the third-party chip manufacturing sector, claiming over 50% of the market share. This immense power grants the company significant influence within the semiconductor industry, particularly in the realm of AI chips. TSM takes charge of approximately 90% of advanced chip production for third-party companies, making its role crucial for AI models reliant on such technology.

Furthermore, TSM is currently overcoming a previous downturn in the semiconductor sector and experiencing an upturn in growth, aided by advancements in artificial intelligence. On March 8, the company disclosed a consolidated revenue of NT$181.65 billion ($5.68 billion) for February 2024, representing a rise of 11.3% from February 2023.

Moreover, TSM’s January through February 2024 revenue reached NT$397.43 billion ($12.43 billion), showcasing a noteworthy surge of 9.4% compared to the corresponding period in 2023.

In addition, as of December 31, 2023, the company's cash and cash equivalents amounted to $47.66 billion, up 9.1% year-over-year. Moreover, as of December 31, 2023, total assets grew 11.4% year-over-year to $179.93 billion. TSM’s strong liquidity position provides resilience, flexibility, and opportunities for growth and value creation, enhancing the company’s financial health and competitiveness in the market.

Strategic Investments and Expansion Plans

TSM has been actively investing in strategic initiatives to fortify its global dominance in producing cutting-edge semiconductor chips. It boasts a staggering 90% share in manufacturing these highly coveted chips, integral to the functionality of various devices, including smartphones and AI technology.

Although there may be a few geopolitical uncertainties impacting TSM, with the company having its headquarters in Taiwan, which China asserts as part of its territory, it is actively expanding its operations beyond Taiwanese borders.

Recently, TSM unveiled its inaugural fabrication plant in Kumamoto, Japan. Plans are also underway to inaugurate two $40 billion facilities dedicated to producing advanced microprocessors in Phoenix, Arizona. Additionally, TSM has committed $3.80 billion to establish a fabrication plant in Dresden, Germany, marking its first establishment in Europe.

Furthermore, NVDA plans to introduce advancements to its H100 and GH100 models in the second quarter of 2024 - the H200 and GH200. It has also debuted the B100/B200 and GB200 on its Blackwell platform during GTC. These chip offerings will significantly enhance operations for NVDA’s AI GPU’s sole maker -TSM.

AMD predicts that the market for AI GPUs will reach $400 billion by 2027, with a CAGR of 70%. TSM has already committed substantial capital expenditures to increase its production capacity and meet customer demands in this expanding market.

TSM’s management anticipates that the fiscal 2024 first-quarter revenue will range from $18.0 billion to $18.8 billion. The company’s gross profit margin could fall between 52% and 54%, while its operating profit margin is expected to range from 40% to 42%. Its 2024 CapEx guidance of $28 billion to $32 billion indicates a strategic shift where the rate of capital spending growth is stabilizing as TSMC capitalizes on its growth opportunities.

TSM plans to manage its capital with a focus on several key objectives: funding organic growth, ensuring profitability, maintaining financial flexibility, and delivering sustainable and increasing cash dividends to shareholders. Owing to diligent capital management, TSM's Board of Directors authorized in November 2023 to increase the cash dividend for the third quarter of 2023 from NT$3 ($0.09) to NT$3.50 ($0.11) per share.

From now on, this will be the new minimum quarterly dividend level. The cash dividend for the third quarter of 2023 will be paid out in April 2024.

Moreover, TSM’s shareholders received a cash dividend of NT$11.25 ($0.35) per share in 2023, and they will receive a minimum of NT$13.5 ($0.42) per share in 2024. In the coming years, the company anticipates a shift in its cash dividend policy, moving from maintaining sustainable dividends to steadily increasing cash dividends per share.

Bottom Line

Investors aiming to capitalize on the AI boom should prioritize investing in companies that play an indispensable role in developing and promoting AI technologies. Focusing on foundational players in the chip industry is crucial as these companies are well-positioned to drive and benefit from AI advancements in the long term. One such promising industry player is TSMC.

Though TSM does not immediately appear as an AI staple, its role in the AI pipeline is paramount and arguably on par with any other enterprise. Data centers rely heavily on GPUs, which serve as the neural center of AI computing systems. The process heavily relies on TSM's exceptional manufacturing processes and the semiconductors that it produces for its client companies.

TSMC’s chief executive officer, C.C. Wei, foresees the company’s AI-centric chip revenue to expand at a CAGR of 50%. By 2027, he projects AI chips to make up a high-teens portion of the company’s revenue.

With its operations well-suited to leverage the ongoing AI wave, TSM’s stock has surged more than 57% over the past six months. Positioned firmly with a proven track record of success, strategic investments, and a flourishing market for AI-based chips, TSM presents an appealing opportunity for investors seeking substantial returns.