In June 2020, the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America (CHIPS) Act was introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas). The act called for the U.S. to boost its subsidies for domestic chipmakers to address the global chip shortage, reduce the country's dependence on Asian chip foundries, and stay ahead of China in the semiconductor race.
The CHIPS Act would provide $52 billion in subsidies and tax breaks for domestic chipmakers. But more than two years later, it still hasn't passed Congress. The Senate recently cleared the way toward a final vote on the bill next week, but some Republicans are still reportedly reluctant to approve those high subsidies. Some chipmakers have also pointed out that the act favors integrated device manufacturers, which produce their own chips, over "fabless" chipmakers, which outsource manufacturing to third-party foundries.
All that noise can make it difficult to figure out exactly which chipmakers would benefit from the passage of the CHIPS Act. So today, I'll highlight three chip stocks that could rally the most if it's approved.
Intel (INTC -1.01%) is an integrated device manufacturer that still produces most of its chips, but over the past decade, it fell behind Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSM -0.33%) (also known as TSMC) in the "process race" to create smaller and denser chips. Intel lost its crown as it struggled with R&D blunders, manufacturing mishaps, chip shortages, and delays. TSMC also started installing ASML Holding's top-tier extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography systems -- which etch circuit patterns into the world's most advanced chips -- long before Intel did.
As a result, Intel is now approximately one to two chip generations behind TSMC. TSMC plans to boost its capital expenditures from 2021's $30 billion to a historic high of $40 billion in 2022 to maintain that lead. Intel can only afford to increase its capital expenditures to $27 billion this year -- yet it claims it can catch up to TSMC in the process race by 2025.
That's why Intel has been aggressively lobbying for the approval of the CHIPS Act. As the country's largest chipmaker, it believes it can secure a large portion of those subsidies, allowing it to close its spending gap with TSMC. It also plans to open up its domestic foundries to fabless chipmakers, which could help it challenge TSMC in the third-party contract chipmaking market.
2. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing
At first glance, the CHIPS Act seems aimed at reducing the dependence of fabless chipmakers like Advanced Micro Devices, Nvidia, and Qualcomm on TSMC and other Asian foundries.
However, the U.S. has also been courting TSMC with subsidies to convince it to open more stateside foundries. Back in 2020, Washington subsidized the construction of TSMC's $12 billion plant in Arizona for the production of its 5nm chips -- which are less advanced than the chips it makes in Taiwan, but far more advanced than the older-generation chips it manufactures in China.
Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger loudly protested that decision, but the CHIPS Act would likely free up more subsidies for TSMC's Arizona plant and other foundries it might open in the future. If TSMC builds additional plants in the U.S., it could conceivably snuff out Intel's plans of becoming a major third-party contract chipmaker.
3. Texas Instruments
Texas Instruments (TXN -0.11%) provides a wide range of analog and embedded chips to the automotive, industrial, consumer electronics, and communications industries. It manufactures its analog chips at its own foundries and outsources some of its embedded chips to overseas foundries.
Over the past few years, Texas Instruments has been upgrading its own plants from 200mm to 300mm wafers to reduce the costs of its unpackaged parts by roughly 40%. That strategy enabled it to consistently expand its gross margins.
But earlier this year, it announced that it would increase its capital expenditures to about $3.5 billion annually -- a mid-teens percentage of its projected revenues -- over the next four years to upgrade its plants. It also plans to keep that spending elevated at about 10% of its revenues from 2025 to 2030.
Texas Instruments can easily handle that spending boost, but it could change the public perception of the chipmaker as a shareholder-friendly company that regularly returns all of its free cash flow to investors through buybacks and dividends. The CHIPS Act might help it mitigate that spending pressure.
Not all chipmakers will benefit from the CHIPS Act
Shares of Intel, TSMC, and Texas Instruments will likely rally if the CHIPS Act is finally approved, as will shares of other American integrated device manufacturers like Micron Technology or Skyworks Solutions.
However, fabless chipmakers like Nvidia, AMD, and Qualcomm probably won't see much of a boost, since they're still dependent on big Asian foundries like TSMC and Samsung. The CHIPS Act won't be a magic bullet for the U.S. semiconductor industry, but it could convince more chipmakers to build first-party fabrication plants domestically again.