Home » Business » The A.I. Chips War Could Heat Up This Summer
The A.I. Chips War Could Heat Up This Summer
June 28, 2023
Will the U.S. tighten a cordon around A.I. chips?
Shares in high-flying chipmakers like Nvidia and AMD were down in premarket trading today, after The Wall Street Journal reported that the Biden administration is weighing new restrictions on exporting artificial intelligence-related semiconductors to China.
The deliberations underscore the White House’s worries about falling behind in the race to dominate A.I. and the potential for Beijing to use the technology in military applications — and they show that it is willing to tighten the screws on trade to stay ahead.
Any such move would curb sales of some lower-end A.I. chips, after the Biden administration limited exports of the most advanced semiconductors last year, according to The Journal. That would include Nvidia’s A800 chips, which the company created specifically to comply with earlier restrictions, set by the Commerce Department, on computational performance. Those chips might now require a license to be sold to Chinese companies.
The report is knocking stocks of companies that would be affected, even though a final decision isn’t likely until next month, after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen returns from a trip to Beijing. Shares in Nvidia, which have more than doubled this year on investor enthusiasm around A.I., were down over 3.1 percent as of 7 a.m. Eastern on the report, while AMD shares were down 3.5 percent.
Chinese tech company stocks also took a hit: Chengdu Information Technology of Chinese Academy of Sciences tumbled nearly 12 percent today, while Inspur Electronic Information Industry fell 10 percent.
The goal is to handicap China’s A.I. progress in the name of national security. The White House has repeatedly said that it considers A.I. to be a crucial technology for a variety of applications, from military weapons to cybersecurity, and it has asked allies, including Japan and the Netherlands, to also restrict exports to Beijing.
That has left corporate leaders in the difficult position of supporting efforts to protect American interests while defending their businesses. (Nvidia, for instance, draws about 20 percent of its revenue from China.) “I can’t underline this enough: If we treat every economic interaction as a risk, we will lose focus on those that truly pose a threat,” Suzanne Clark, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a speech last month.
It’s unclear how Beijing will respond, but the prospect of further escalation in the U.S.-China trade war is real. Last month, the Chinese government blocked domestic companies that handle critical information from buying chips made by Micron, citing “relatively serious cybersecurity problems.”
In other U.S.-China news: A top Biden administration official expressed concerns to Sequoia last year about investments made by the venture capital firm’s China unit in local start-ups that could pose national security risks, according to The Journal. This month, Sequoia unveiled a plan to break off its Chinese and Indian investment arms.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Federal investigators blame prison mismanagement for Jeffrey Epstein’s death. A Justice Department investigation found that extreme negligence and misconduct at a now-shuttered Manhattan jail allowed the convicted sex offender and disgraced financier to die by suicide. The report did not find any evidence that contradicted earlier conclusions that Epstein killed himself.
UBS is said to plan broad layoffs at Credit Suisse. The Swiss bank is expected to cut more than half of its onetime rival’s 45,000-person work force starting next month, according to Bloomberg. UBS closed its government-brokered deal to buy Credit Suisse this month, and a cull would be part of the surviving bank’s effort to shed some $6 billion in costs.
Fidelity reportedly plans to unveil a Bitcoin E.T.F. The asset management titan is expected to file for approval of a spot Bitcoin exchange-traded fund, according to The Block. That would make it the latest Wall Street giant to push for a mainstream fund built around cryptocurrency, in the hope that the S.E.C. will finally approve such efforts.
A Russian general had advance knowledge of Yevgeny Prigozhin rebellion plans. American intelligence is still trying to determine whether Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the former top Russian commander in Ukraine, helped the leader of the Wagner Group plan his armed insurrection.
U.S. regulators move to tighten scrutiny of deals. Antitrust authorities have proposed seeking much more information from companies planning a merger, disclosure on subsidies received from some governments, including China, Iran and Russia. The potential new rules, if adopted, could push back completion of deals by several months and lead to more paperwork.
Inflation clouds loom over central bankers
Investors on both sides of the Atlantic will be tuning in at 8:30 a.m. Eastern today for the main event from the European Central Bank’s summer confab in Portugal: a discussion between Christine Lagarde, the E.C.B.’s president; the Fed chair Jay Powell; Andrew Bailey, governor of the Bank of England; and the Bank of Japan’s Kazuo Ueda.
The world’s top monetary policymakers have descended on the hilltop resort town of Sintra at a difficult time for the global economy, as a cost-of-living crisis grips North America, Europe and beyond.
The big question: Can the central bankers steer their economies out of a protracted downturn even as they step up their battle with inflation?
Analysts are divided. Yesterday, HSBC predicted that the United States would slide into recession in the fourth quarter, followed by Europe next year. Goldman Sachs economists place the odds of a U.S. recession at a more benign 35 percent, but see a “hard path” ahead for the Fed to avoid a so-called hard landing.
Most of the panelists have set an aggressive policy on interest rates. Combined, they have raised rates 31 times since December 2021. The Bank of England leads the pack with 13 increases (which have had little impact on inflation), followed by the Fed (10), the E.C.B. (eight) and Japan (zero — low inflation persists in Japan, and the central bank hasn’t touched rates since 2016).
More increases are on the way in the U.S., Europe and Britain. The futures market is pricing in at least one more Fed increase this year — probably at its July meeting. The markets think the E.C.B. and the Bank of England have even more work to do to bring down stubbornly high inflation.
Lagarde yesterday set a hawkish tone, warning that eurozone inflation had become entrenched in every layer of the economy. To push prices down further, she said, the central bank “will have to bring rates to sufficiently restrictive levels and keep them there for as long as necessary.”
Watch for more tough talk from the Fed today. The central bank will have to “communicate a commitment to fight inflation at any cost,” Michael Gapen, the chief U.S. economist at Bank of America, wrote in an investor note this week.
“They don’t want a normal person, a normal company. They want something extraordinary. You’re not born extraordinary.”
— Spencer Shulem, C.E.O. of BuildBetter, on why he occasionally uses LSD. He says the drug heightens his creativity and focus, and that gives him an edge with venture capitalists who are looking for exceptional start-up executives in whom to invest.
What went down at the PGA Tour meeting
Being a PGA Tour director was never supposed to be particularly contentious. But yesterday’s board meeting in Dearborn, Mich., was weightier than most. It was the first since the PGA Tour tentatively agreed to a merger involving the Saudi-backed LIV Golf league on June 6, a deal that most of its directors — including its player members — knew nothing about before it was announced.
DealBook was there.
The board was holed up for hours on the first floor of the Henry Hotel. In attendance were Edward Herlihy of Wachtell, the board’s chair and one of the lead negotiators for the deal; Mary Meeker of the investment firm Bond; and Randall Stephenson, the former C.E.O. of AT&T. The board’s five player representatives were also there: Rory McIlroy, Patrick Cantlay, Charley Hoffman, Peter Malnati and Webb Simpson.
Also spotted: Robert Gibbs, the former White House spokesman who was recently hired to represent the PGA Tour as it stares down a mountain of scrutiny from Washington over the proposed deal.
The board said negotiations had entered a “new phase.” A five-page framework agreement released this week revealed that few details had been agreed upon, prompting some lawyers to say the proposed deal more closely resembled a legal settlement than an M&A transaction.But the PGA Tour reiterated after the meeting that reaching a definitive agreement was “in the best of interests of our players, fans, sponsors, partners and the game overall.”
Any final agreement would need board approval. Herlihy and James Dunne, a veteran dealmaker who was also involved in the talks, are expected to back the deal, and McIlroy has begrudgingly given his support. But most others on the board have yet to reveal their hand.
Most of the meeting focused on finding a path to a deal. About three hours was spent trying to figure out how to resolve some final logistics, a person familiar with the discussion told DealBook. Chief among them: valuation, since the initial deal framework did not assign one to the PGA Tour, LIV or DP World Tour, the leading men’s competition in Europe which would also be part of any merger.
The tour’s bankers at Allen & Co. explained its process for valuing the business, which includes media and digital rights, along with sponsorship deals, but did not put forward any specific numbers.
Also discussed: how the tour will begin to bring back the golfers who defected to LIV.
What’s next? Top PGA Tour and LIV executives have been invited to appear at a Senate hearing on the deal on July 11.
THE SPEED READ
Oaktree Capital, the investment giant, named Robert O’Leary and Armen Panossian as its co-C.E.O.s. (WSJ)
The trucking company Yellow may file for bankruptcy protection amid a dispute with its union, despite having received a $700 million pandemic-era bailout from Washington. (NYT)
At least $200 billion worth of pandemic business aid may have been siphoned off by fraudsters, a government audit found. (NPR)
TikTok is paying the legal fees of five creators on its platform who have sued Montana over the state’s new law banning the video app. (NYT)
The Supreme Court upheld a Pennsylvania state law that requires companies to consent to being sued in its courts by anyone. (NYT)
Best of the rest
Pay for Wall Street interns is booming, hitting $120 an hour at Citadel. (Bloomberg)
Diageo will end a 15-year-old partnership with Sean Combs, after the rap mogul sued the company for racial discrimination, accusing it of failing to sufficiently promote his vodka and tequila brands. (Hollywood Reporter)
A $4 billion wind farm is being built off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. (NYT)
Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and other stars warned Hollywood studios they were prepared to strike if a deal with the Screen Actors Guild isn’t reached this week. (Rolling Stone)
Andrew Ross Sorkin is a columnist and the founder and editor at large of DealBook. He is a co-anchor of CNBC’s “Squawk Box” and the author of “Too Big to Fail.” He is also a co-creator of the Showtime drama series “Billions.” @andrewrsorkin • Facebook
Ravi Mattu is the managing editor of DealBook, based in London. He joined The New York Times in 2022 from the Financial Times, where he held a number of senior roles in Hong Kong and London. @ravmattu
Bernhard Warner joined the The Times in 2022 as a senior editor for DealBook. Previously he was a senior writer and editor at Fortune focusing on business, the economy and the markets. @bernhardwarner
Sarah Kessler is a senior staff editor for DealBook and the author of “Gigged,” a book about workers in the gig economy. @sarahfkessler
Michael de la Merced joined The Times as a reporter in 2006, covering Wall Street and finance. Among his main coverage areas are mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcies and the private equity industry. @m_delamerced • Facebook
Lauren Hirsch joined The Times from CNBC in 2020, covering deals and the biggest stories on Wall Street. @laurenshirsch