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TSMC May Raise Prices as Costs Increase

Top contract chip maker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC) said on Tuesday it may increase its prices as rising costs threaten to squeeze profits.

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Semiconductor makers face higher costs to build state-of-the-art chip plants for most cutting-edge chips, and are also feeling the pain of high oil prices and rising inflation.

"Average selling prices have been falling and profits have been under pressure, and we have to work together to create value," Jason Chen, a company vice president in charge of global sales and marketing, told a TSMC technology symposium.

He said price changes would be mostly for higher-end chips, but would not say how big they would be or when they would occur.

"We face some structural profit pressure. In the short term, we also face pressure from inflation and oil prices," Chen said.

Consumer prices in Taiwan, where TSMC is based, rose 3.86 percent in April, with core inflation up 3.1 percent -- a nine year high.

BNP Paribas analyst Eric Chen said TSMC's customers could accept higher prices if TSMC provides better services and higher-performance chips.

"The semiconductor industry is still vibrant, and 2008 will be better than last year," TSMC's Chen said, betting on growing emerging market demand for PCs and mobile phones.

TSMC, Samsung Electronics and Intel have said they would jointly develop next-generation bigger silicon wafers to boost efficiency in chip manufacturing.

Analysts say a factory designed to make chips on 18-inch wafers could cost $10 billion or more to build, nearly triple the price of a current 12-inch wafer factory.

TSMC said last month its profit grew by half in the first quarter, but it forecast sales would be flat to slightly higher in the second quarter from the first.

TSMC, whose biggest competitor is cross-town rival United Microelectronics had a gross margin of 43.7 percent in the first quarter, but predicted second quarter gross margins would be relatively flat at 43-45 percent.

TSMC's Taipei-listed shares were up 1.2 percent, while UMC shares were up 1 percent. The main TAIEX market was up 0.75 percent.

Year-to-date, TSMC shares are up 5.5 percent, outperforming the TAIEX's 2.7 percent gain.