|SK hynix's semiconductor manufacturing plant in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province / Courtesy of SK hynix|
By Baek Byung-yeul
SK hynix is recruiting researchers and other experts in the semiconductor manufacturing material sector in an effort to improve technological capabilities and diversify import lines of key chip-making materials while the company is facing uncertainties over Japan's tightened export controls, the chipmaker said Tuesday.
The world's second-largest memory chipmaker has posted job openings for experts who hold a master's degree or above in material, chemical and semiconductor engineering sectors on its careers website.
It is also seeking experts who have had experience in procurement of chip-making materials. According to the job description, the candidates will work on procuring photoresists, an essential material for chip-making and one of the three items that Tokyo has placed export controls on to Korea.
The company explained it conducts the recruitment process "on a year-round basis" and "the recruitment is not directly related with Japan's export curbs on high-tech materials." But given this is the first recruitment that has been undertaken in the second half of 2019, the move can be interpreted as an attempt to minimize any potential negative impact from Japan's export controls.
While SK hynix logged explosive growth during the past two years, the chipmaker has been struggling with challenging market conditions in 2019.
It posted an operating profit of 537 billion won ($440 million) in the second quarter, plunging 88 percent compared to the same period in 2018, because of slowing demand and the falling global sales prices of memory chips.
Adding insult to injury, Japan said on July 1 that it will restrict exports to Korea of three high-tech materials.
In response to the unilateral announcement, SK hynix said "we are trying to secure inventories of chip materials as much as possible and make efforts to diversify suppliers. But the company added it cannot rule out production disruption if Japanese export controls drag on."
To seek a rebound, the company said it will reduce the production capacity of major memory products such as DRAM and NAND flash chips.
For DRAM, it said it will cut the output beginning the fourth quarter and will turn part of its fabrication line in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province over to image sensors. It also plans to trim the NAND wafer input by more than 15 percent, a five percent increase from its earlier plan.
Lee Soon-hak, an analyst at Hanwha Investment & Securities, said the strategy to restrict supply is expected to bring positive results because "the inventory level of its customer companies is decreasing after the announcement."
"SK hynix is expected to recover after the third quarter. DRAM suppliers including the company is restricting supply by cutting its production capacity so there will be a tightened inventory," Lee said.