Despite the politicking, Russia couldn't handle Qimonda
April 22, 2009 //
The idea that Russia might save Qimonda to any great effect in the global chip industry is, I am afraid, ridiculous. And that's with or without the involvement of Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin in the discussions.
LONDON The idea that Russia might save Qimonda to any great effect in the global chip industry is, I am afraid, ridiculous. And that's with or without the involvement of Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin in the discussions.
But that does not mean an attempt will not be made. And beyond that, any such attempt could have implications for Qimonda's parent Infineon Technologies AG, which is already said to be seeking state-aid. While Qimonda largely seems to have gone, these difficult times could yet prove dangerous to Infineon, which also needs to undergo a radical transformation. So far that has largely been limited to putting its child at arm's length and saying that no more support is available.
Sure, Russia could pump some money into Qimonda in Dresden and keep employment up. After all Russia, notwithstanding the current global economic recession, has plenty of money. But along with the amount of cash that Qimonda needs to refinance itself, would go control and Russia has not shown itself able to organize chip manufacturing at anything but a parochial scale.
We certainly applaud the steps taken at Angstrem, Mikron and Sitronic, but we also note that protected markets and trailing-, rather than leading-edge, manufacturing have been the hallmarks of their progress.
Russia has come a long way in a decade but mainly it has come a long way by virtue of the windfall benefits of its vast reserves of gas and oil. Rather like a householder who feels rich as the market value of the house inflates, Russia has not had to do much by way of technological development or the adoption of global capital markets. There are some notable exceptions in entrepreneurial software and firmware companies, but in general semiconductor manufacturing still seems to be treated as a quasi-state enterprise in Russia. And this is not a recipe for success.
If one goes back 20 years there was a quasi-state chip manufacturing enterprise in Dresden called Zentrum Mikroelektronik Dresden, which produced the German Democratic Republic's first 1-Mbit DRAM. However, the operation was only sustained through subsidy and over the intervening years the company has gone fabless and reduced its employment to about 250 people. Many of those ZMD chip workers were picked up by Siemens/Infineon/Qimonda to work at the newer manufacturing plant across town.
And if we look at Russia's last attempt to pick up western semiconductor assets, the signs are not good. In August 2007 IBM and Infineon Technologies said they had agreed to sell their shares in Altis Semiconductor SA, with its manufacturing site in Corbeil-Essonnes, France, to Advanced Electronic Systems AG (Zurich, Switzerland). Advanced Electronic Systems (AES) was a Swiss affiliate of the shadowy Global Information Services, a Russia-based holding company with offices in Moscow and Miami.
However, a little over a year later in December 2008 an Infineon spokesperson said: "As of September 30, 2008, negotiations with AES have not progressed as previously anticipated and could not be completed. Despite the fact that negotiations are ongoing with an additional party, the outcome of these negotiations is uncertain."
The fact that Vladimir Putin has been cited in the latest discussions over the fate of Qimonda, is disturbing. It has been reported that Putin served in Dresden during his time with the KGB and it is clearly the case that it is Russia foreign policy to roll back the tide of western influence in Eastern Europe. A return to Russian sponsored semiconductor manufacturing in the east of Germany, might seem to fit the bill.
The idea that Russian money could reinvigorate Qimonda and drive it forward is no more likely than that Russia would know what to do with Altis. Qimonda doesn't just need money it also needs a credible business plan. And it does not seem likely that would be something that could come from points adjacent and to the east. The biggest risk is that Russian tinkering in Qimonda could yet bring Russian petrodollars to a position where they destabilize Infineon.
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