Japan's chip equipment makers in the dark about new China export restrictions
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese makers of semiconductor manufacturing machinery and materials used to make chips said on Monday they had yet to hear from Japan's government about export restrictions that could directly or indirectly affect their business in China.
Reuters contacted 10 chip-related companies, of which five - Advantest Corp, Nikon Corp, Resonac Holdings Corp, Lasertec Corp and Shin-Etsu Chemical Co Ltd - said they were unaware of any contact from Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry about any new restrictions reportedly agreed by Japan, the United States and the Netherlands last week to stymie rival China's technological advancement.
"As we do not know what the situation is, we cannot comment on what the impact is and what our response will be," said a spokesman for Advantest, which makes chip-testing machines and other chip-related equipment.
Past restrictions on advanced semiconductor shipments to China have not affected Japan because the country, which once dominated global chip manufacturing, now only makes around a 10th of the world's semiconductors, most of them less advanced than the chips made by the likes of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC) and South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co Ltd.
Japan, however, is a major supplier of machines used to make those leading-edge semiconductors that could come under restrictions following reports Washington and other governments had agreed on a deal to curb their exports to China.
"South Korea has constantly beaten Japan in semiconductors all these years, but one thing they don't have is steppers," which are used to project electronic circuits on to silicon plates, said Tokai Tokyo Research Institute analyst Masahiko Ishino. Without knowing the details of any new restrictions it is impossible to know their impact, he said.
Dutch company ASML Holding NV, a key supplier to chipmakers, said on Saturday it "understood" that progress had been made towards an agreement among several governments.
Its statement followed a Bloomberg report that the United States had secured a deal with the Netherlands and Japan.
The five other Japanese firms Reuters contacted did not respond when asked about the possible impact of tighter export rules and whether they were concerned China would retaliate. Among them was Tokyo Electron Ltd, Japan's biggest semiconductor manufacturing machinery maker.
Shares of Japanese semiconductor equipment makers were mostly flat on Monday, with Tokyo Electron up 0.68% while Advantest Corp fell 0.32%. Nikon Corp was up 0.16%, in line with the benchmark Nikkei average.
(Reporting by Tim Kelly, Mayu Sakoda, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Mariko Katsumura; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Christopher Cushing)