Nexperia sells Newport Wafer Fab to American chipmaker for $177M

Good news for skilled workers with new owner aiming to 'safeguard positions'

A US-based semiconductor biz is to buy the Newport Wafer Fab (NWF) facility in South Wales, following last year's decision by the UK government that it had to be sold under national security legislation.

Vishay Intertechnology, based in Pennsylvania, entered an agreement with current owners Nexperia to acquire the wafer fabrication plant in Newport for $177 million in cash.

The company, described as a global manufacturer of discrete semiconductors and passive electronic components, intends to use the facility to set up production for silicon carbide (SiC) Trench MOSFETs and diodes.

"Adding Newport Wafer Fab to our manufacturing footprint will be instrumental to achieving our goal of expanding capacity for our customers and to accelerating our SiC strategy," said Vishay president and CEO Joel Smejkal.

The company came under new leadership earlier this year and has a goal of investing approximately $1.2 billion in new capacity over a three-year period.

Smejkal said Vishay intends to "safeguard the positions of the highly skilled and dedicated employees" at Newport Wafer Fab, and claimed "Vishay will immediately bring stability and its reliable cash flow generation to ensure the facility becomes a fully operational and profitable fab."

Newport Wafer Fab, a former Inmos manufacturing site, was sold to Dutch semiconductor manufacturer Nexperia in 2021 for £63 million ($76 million). However, Nexperia itself was already owned by Wingtech Technology, a partially state-owned Chinese outfit.

This triggered a belated investigation by the UK government, controversially using powers it had gained under the National Security and Investment Act (NSIA) 2021 to retroactively review the purchase. The UK administration eventually demanded last year that Nexperia put NFP up for sale again.

This was despite protestations from Nexperia that forcing the sale of the facility would have a "devastating impact on Newport's financial position," with the potential for a staff exodus that would hit production and threaten its business viability.

Nexperia blamed the UK government decision for the shedding of 100 jobs at the facility in September.

Giving evidence to a Parliamentary committee last year, Nexperia's UK country manager Toni Versluijs said his company had actually saved Newport Wafer Fab from bankruptcy, and intended to invest in it. The site is capable of producing 32,000 wafers a month, manufactured using a 200nm process.

Commenting on the sale, Versluijs said: "Nexperia would have preferred to continue the long term strategy it implemented when it acquired the investment-starved fab in 2021 and provided for massive investments in equipment and personnel."

However, those investment plans were cut short by the divestment order made by the UK government in November 2022, which he described as "unexpected and wrongful."

"Of all options, this agreement with Vishay is the most viable one to secure the future of the site, as Vishay – like Nexperia – has a solid customer base for the fab's capabilities," Versluijs added.

The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2024, but will itself be subject to UK government review and customary closing conditions. Whether the British government will similarly object to a US company buying Newport Wafer Fab in unclear, but we think we can guess the outcome. ®

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