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Trump’s Trade War Hits U.S. Tech Companies from California to North Carolina

President Trump declared a national emergency last week — and if you think that had something to do with global warming, terrorism, or even immigration policy, you may not have been paying close enough attention.

No, this one has to do with competition in the tech sector, and specifically, competition from Huawei to lead the development of new 5G wireless technology around the world. Supported by generous state subsidies, and probably not a little state-sponsored espionage, Huawei has made great strides in developing the tech need to build a 5G infrastructure in China, in Europe, in Africa, and potentially, in the United States itself. However, as a company presumed to be under the influence of China’s state security apparatus, the Trump Administration views Huawei as a clear and present danger — if not necessarily to national security, then certainly to the peace of mind of U.S. tech firms that must compete with it.

Thus, to stymie Huawei’s growing influence, last week the President empowered the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to effectively “blacklist” Huawei and prevent U.S. companies from doing business with the Chinese tech giant. This order cuts off Huawei from access to microchips and other tech components essential to the manufacture of much of its 5G equipment — everything from handsets to base stations.

It also, however, prevents many U.S. companies from making sales to Huawei. And in so doing, it’s hitting the business of U.S. tech giants from California — Qualcomm (QCOM) and Broadcom (AVGO) to North Carolina — Qorvo (QRVO) and Cree (CREE) to Massachusetts where Skyworks (SWKS) resides. Qorvo in particular looks at risk, with analysts estimating the company derives as much as 15% of its revenue from sales to Huawei (versus, for example, Broadcom, which does “de minimis” business with the Chinese company).

Conversely, the Trump Administration blacklist effectively cripples Huawei’s business, which depends on electronic components such as radio frequency modules, antenna tuners and other components, supplied by these American tech firms and essential to Huawei’s manufacture of its 4G handsets today. Without them, the company may not live to invent the 5G tech of tomorrow. Even if the company does survive, though, Huawei’s 5G tech is believed to depend on such U.S.-supplied components as “GaN power transistors” needed to build RF power amplifiers, and “silicon carbide (SiC) wafers” on which those transistors are housed, as explained in a note this week from Charter Equity Research analyst Edward Snyder.

For the time being, Huawei is drawing down stockpiles of such essential components, amassed in anticipation of a ban on trade with the company. Once these supplies run out, however, Snyder warns that the company could be in something of a bind.

Snyder identifies Japan’s Murata Manufacturing as one potential alternative supplier of “diversity receive” (DRX) radio frequency modules — albeit a distant second to main supplier Skyworks — and Japan’s TDK is a potential source of filters. Then again, China isn’t exactly on the best of terms with Japan right now, either. (The two countries are continually feuding over ownership of certain islands in the East China Sea). Further complicating matters, TDK has a joint venture with Qualcomm, and therefore may find itself subject to the same ban restricting Qualcomm’s selling to Huawei.

By and large, therefore, it’s Snyder’s assessment that “there are no other suppliers, Chinese or otherwise, capable of filling the void left by the ban on U.S. components,” and this blacklisting is likely to “devastate Huawei’s phone business,” at least in the 4G realm, while its development of 5G tech will “slow considerably.” Conversely, in the analyst’s opinion, the Trump Administration’s ban on sales to Huawei is likely to accrue to the benefit of rivals like Korea’s Samsung, and to Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi in China.

At least, until the Trump Administration decides to blacklist those companies, as well.

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