ASML orders triple in fourth quarter amid soaring demand for advanced chip gear, especially in China

ASML Holding NV orders more than tripled last quarter from the previous three months as demand for its most-sophisticated machines soared, in a sign that the semiconductor industry may be recovering.

Order bookings rose to €9.19 billion (US$9.98 billion) in the fourth quarter from €2.6 billion in July to September, Europe’s most valuable technology company said in a statement on Wednesday. That compares with an average estimate of €3.6 billion by analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

Bookings of its most-advanced extreme ultraviolet lithography machines in the period was €5.6 billion.

“The inventory levels in the end markets are improving and are definitely at a better level than they were a couple of quarters ago,” chief financial officer Roger Dassen said in a statement accompanying the earnings result.

ASML wants to speed up deliveries of mature lithography machines to China

ASML is the only company that produces equipment needed to make the most sophisticated semiconductors, and demand for its products are a bellwether for the industry’s health. Late last year, it started shipping major parts of the first of its newest chip-making machine to Intel.

ASML also benefited from strong demand from China last year as chip makers there rushed to get lithography machines ahead of Dutch export rules meant to hobble Beijing’s semiconductor ambitions. The rise in Chinese demand helped offset the effects of a global chip industry slowdown on ASML, which is the only producer of the equipment needed to produce most advanced semiconductors.

China accounted for 39 per cent of ASML’s sales in the fourth quarter, down from 46 per cent in the previous period. China accounted for only 8 per cent in January to March.

“The business in 2023 with China was very, very strong,” Dassen said.

Net sales rose to €7.24 billion in October to December, from €6.67 billion in the previous three months.

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Biden’s China tech policy goal: a 10 year handicap

Biden’s China tech policy goal: a 10 year handicap

ASML has been targeted by the US effort to curb exports of cutting-edge technology to China, one of the Veldhoven-based company’s biggest markets. Last year, US President Joe Biden’s administration urged the Dutch government to prevent ASML from shipping some immersion deep ultraviolet lithography machines, its second-most capable machinery, to China without a licence.

The Dutch manufacturer had licences to ship three top-of-the-line DUV lithography machines to Chinese firms before this month, when the new restrictions took full effect. However, US officials reached out to ASML late last year to ask them to immediately halt scheduled shipments of some of the machines to Chinese customers, Bloomberg News reported previously, citing people familiar with the matter.

ASML, which is already restricted from selling its most advanced extreme ultraviolet machines to China, expects as much as 15 per cent of China sales this year will be affected by the new export control measures.

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