War in Europe is obviously our top news update this week, even though war coverage is the job of TVs and daily newspapers. For our part, going forward we will try to monitor the impact that this tragic event is going to have on the semiconductor ecosystem and on the IT industry – in terms of supply chain disruptions, sanctions consequences and so on. For the moment, let’s move to our usual weekly news update.
Cadence’s 2021 results
Cadence achieved a revenue growth of 11% in 2021, reporting a $2.988 billion income compared to $2.683 billion for 2020. On a GAAP basis, in 2021 the company obtained an operating margin of 26 percent. The outlook for 2022 projects a revenue growth of approximately 12%. In a prepared statement issued on occasion of the latest financial results conference call, Cadence’s CEO Anirudh Devgan provided some details about the results achieved by the company in 2021. Cadence’s digital full flow was adopted by more than forty-five additional customers during the year, and preexisting relationships with Oppo and Socionext were expanded. As for the machine learning-based Cerebrus solution, Devgan only mentioned the benefits obtained by some unidentified users: a “market shaping U.S automotive company” reduced the power consumption of a critical five nanometer SoC AI block by nearly ten percent in just two weeks; a “premier Asia Pacific systems company” reduced power of their four-nanometer design by ten percent with one-tenth the effort of manual optimization; a “marquee US semiconductor company” taped out their next generation SoC with a 5x productivity improvement on several critical blocks. In 2021, Cadence’s Verification business grew twenty percent year-over-year, fueled by what Devgan called “a record year for hardware.” Demand for Palladium Z2 and Protium X2 platforms “has greatly exceeded our expectations,” he said. More than half of customers purchased both platforms during the year, and the “hardware family” added over thirty new customers. Devgan also pointed out that 2021 was “an exceptional year” for Jasper formal verification platform, which added over forty new customers. Other details offered by Devgan include SK Hynix and Micron being among the adopters of Spectre FX FastSPICE; the addition of “nearly a hundred new logos (…) notably in Aerospace & Defense” following Cadence’s acquisitions of Numeca and Pointwise; and the growth of cloud-based solutions, now used by over 250 customers.
Cadence also announced a strategic partnership with French company Dassault Systèmes, through which the Allegro platform has been have combined with Dassaults’ 3DExperience platform to create a ‘virtual twin’ experience that integrates capabilities for electronic and mechanical products.
Foundries and fabs are making news again this week, along with the completion of one of the mega-deals announced in 2020 (AMD-Xilinx). As for the one that did not go through (Nvidia-Arm), a recent press report suggest that an Arm IPO will probably mean SoftBank accepting a valuation below the $32 billion it paid for the company in 2016 – and well below the $60 billion expected from the transaction.
Intel to acquire specialty foundry Tower Semiconductor
Confirming rumors, on February 15 Intel announced it will acquire Israel-headquartered foundry Tower Semiconductor for approximately $5.4 billion. With this transaction, Intel aims to create a globally diverse end-to-end foundry offering, bringing together its advanced nodes and scale manufacturing with Tower Semiconductor’s specialty technologies. Tower specializes in the manufacturing of analog semiconductor solutions addressing multiple markets, including aerospace and defense. Its process platforms include SiGe, BiCMOS, mixed-signal/CMOS, RF CMOS, CMOS image sensor, non-imaging sensors, integrated power management (BCD and 700V), and MEMS. The company also provides design enablement and process transfer services. Tower Semiconductor owns two manufacturing facilities in Israel (150mm and 200mm), two in the U.S. (200mm), three facilities in Japan (two 200mm and one 300mm) which it owns through its 51% holdings in TPSCo and is sharing a 300mm manufacturing facility being established in Italy with STMicroelectronics.
Tower Semiconductor headquarter in Israel. Credit: Tower Semiconductor
In various ways, some recent governments’ decisions are contributing to shaping the future of the semiconductor industry. On the one hand, opposition from regulatory authorities around the world is forcing Nvidia to give up the acquisition of Arm; additionally – after the recent passing of the U.S. CHIPS Act – also the European Union is planning public financial support to new local fabs. The big picture includes Intel – also in the news this week for its foundry initiatives – that is likely set to benefit from public support for its future fabs.
Nvidia gives up Arm acquisition; Arm to go public
On February 7 Nvidia and SoftBank Group jointly announced the termination of the transaction whereby Nvidia would acquire Arm from SoftBank. As stated in a press release, the parties agreed to terminate the attempted deal because of “significant regulatory challenges preventing the consummation of the transaction”. In the same announcement, SoftBank also stated that Arm will now start preparations for a public offering within the fiscal year ending March 31.
Some press and analysts’ comments are focusing on Arm’s ability to self-fund its growth through the stock market. EETimes recalls that – in a last attempt to rescue the deal – Arm released a document in January indicating it would face significant hurdles to growth as a standalone company if the acquisition fell through. Patrick Moorhead on Forbes, however, notes that for financial year ending March 31, 2022, Arm is forecasted to generate a record $2.5B revenue and $900M in adjusted EBITDA. According to Moorhead, this means that “Arm is actually very profitable” and this somewhat surprising revelation sheds new light on the IPO option.
Advancements in autonomous vehicles are in the news this week, along with several other topical issues such as new transistor architectures, 5G, AI acceleration, geopolitical tensions, and the automotive chip shortage.
Driverless vehicles updates: Cruise, TuSimple
On February 1stCruise opened up its driverless cars in San Francisco to the public. Users can book a driverless ride – free, for now – from a sign-up page on the company’s website. Cruise is planning to ramp up the service as more cars are made available. In a blog post, Kyle Vogt, interim CEO, CTO, and co-founder, wrote that reaching this milestone will prompt SoftBank Vision Fund to invest an additional $1.35 billion in Cruise. Advancements also concern TuSimple, which has reportedly announced that its autonomous trucks have driven 550 miles (885 km) on public roads in Arizona without being manned by human drivers. The company reported that a total of seven fully autonomous runs have been completed on an 80-mile stretch between Phoenix and Tucson, adding that no humans intervened in the traffic flow or operated the truck remotely. Fully autonomous freight services will also be offered in other large US shipping areas, including Texas, by the end of year 2023. TuSimple claims to be the world’s first company to operate fully driverless heavy-duty trucks.