Taiwan chip 'godfather' bullish on cryptocurrency despite volatility

Semiconductor giant TSMC says cryptocurrency mining, which requires a lot of computing power, will be key driver for growth

The revered head of Taiwan's semiconductor giant said cryptocurrencies would be a key driver for growth despite a bitcoin slump due to the threat of stricter regulations.

Morris Chang's Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) produces chips that power Apple's iPhones and, more recently, that enable new businesses like artificial intelligence and digital currency mining.

TSMC -- which is the world's biggest microchip producer by contracts -- announced its fourth-quarter results Thursday, saying revenue grew 5.9 percent to Tw$277.6 billion ($9.4 billion), citing new phone launches and cryptocurrency mining as key factors.

Some analysts estimate TSMC sales from producing chips used in digital currency mining could double this year to five to 10 percent of its total revenue, according to Bloomberg.

Chang warned "the price of cryptocurrency is very volatile" and said for that reason TSMC would not invest in new manufacturing capacity specifically for cryptocurrencies, but that the sector would be covered by the firm's wider high-performance computing platform.

He named high-performance computing including cryptocurrency mining as one of the drivers for future revenue growth, alongside artificial intelligence, the "internet of things" and automotives.

Chang's remarks come a day after bitcoin, the dominant virtual currency, crashed below $10,000 for the first time in six weeks following concerns of tightening regulations.

China is preparing for a new crackdown on cryptocurrency, according to the nation's state media, while South Korea's Justice Minister Park Sang-Ki indicated Seoul was preparing a bill to shut down virtual coin exchanges.

But TSMC forecast the sector would remain resilient as long as miners still make positive returns.

"The demand... has been very strong and we expect it to continue to be strong," Chang told analysts and investors at a briefing in Taipei.

TSMC is optimistic for overall growth in 2018, expecting revenue to increase by 10 to 15 percent -- more than the 9.1 percent increase in 2017 in US dollar terms.

Chang, 86, -- who is known as the "godfather" of Taiwan's semiconductor industry -- is set to retire in early June after his company's annual shareholders' meeting.

He built up the company over four decades to be come a multi-billion dollar powerhouse.