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Chinese Auto-Chip Stocks Fall After Official Probe Into Pricing

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(Bloomberg) -- Chinese automobile-chip maker stocks tumbled after the government launched a probe into possible price manipulation, putting a brake on share surges buoyed by a global semiconductor shortage that’s approaching the 12-month mark.

Chip developers GigaDevice Semiconductor (Beijing) Inc., Wuxi NCE Power Co. and Hangzhou Lion Electronics Co. plunged by their 10% daily trading limit in Shanghai on Tuesday after China’s market regulator said it’s looking into some auto-chip sellers over allegations of price misconduct. Some Asian chip stocks outside of China tied to the auto industry also fell.

The State Administration for Market Regulation vowed to continue watching chip prices and punish any companies found to be hoarding chips, manipulating prices or raising prices through collusion. It didn’t name any firms.

Investors have piled into the shares of chipmakers as a worldwide shortage shows little sign of easing and as sales of electric cars from China to Europe and the U.S. increase. Such companies have also largely escaped Beijing’s crackdown on internet companies to address the “tough problems” of the industry, a move that’s had a devastating impact on Big Tech and more recently been felt by China’s online education sector.

As the global chip shortage persists, particularly in the auto sector, a hike in pricing has been a common theme discussed by semiconductor executives this earnings season. Chinese automakers import about 90% of the high-end chips they require.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Chairman Mark Liu told analysts in an earnings call July 15 that “we are working closely with our customers to firm up our wafer pricing to reflect the cost increases and ensure we earn a proper return.”

Major global auto chip makers including NXP Semiconductors NV, Infineon Technologies AG, and Japan’s Renesas Electronics Corp. all rely on TSMC for some production.

Lorenzo Grandi, chief financial officer or STMicroelectronics NV, said in late July the European auto-chip maker is lifting the revenue guidance for the full year partly due to better-than-expected pricing.

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