To understand the importance of these potential new export restrictions facing Nvidia and AMD we have to go back to 7 October 2022 when the Biden administration issued controls on the export of advanced US AI and semiconductor technology to China. This policy was designed to prevent advanced chipmakers such as Nvidia exporting its A100 chips to China. Nvidia shares declined 12% over four trading sessions as investors realised that around 26% of the business was directly threatened by this new policy.
Already a month later news surfaced that Nvidia was working on a solution so that it could export AI chips to China that would be within the limits of the new rules. The codename was A800 and based on recent 10-K filings the company mentions A800 and H800 chips for the Chinese market as replacements for the successful AI chips A100 and H100. The change that Nvidia did was to lower what is called the high-speed interconnection bus known as NVLink to maximum of 400 GB/s. The change opened up the Chinese market for Nvidia’s new AI chips without a license requirement.
As this article highlights there was a strong uptick in Chinese demand for A800 and H800 already in April driven by purchases from Tencent and similar technology companies in China. This aligns well with the facts that China is significantly behind US companies on AI and that the launch of ChatGPT and Bard has ignited a sense of urgency in China to catch up with the US. Chinese media has described the Chinese government’s intentions to increase research and development significantly this year and a Bloomberg article today is highlighting that up to $15bn is expected to flow into AI spending this year alone in China.
If we look closer at the geographical revenue figures for Nvidia we see the explosion in demand from China as well. Nvidia never mentions neither cryptomining or China in its press releases or investor presentation slide decks. This is intentional. To find the geographical revenue figures one must dig deep into the 10-K filings. Based on those filings we see a clear pattern. In 2022, revenue declined in China and Taiwan as cryptomining became significantly less profitable due to collapsing cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin. The market got flooded with Nvidia’s GPUs as they were no longer in use for cryptomining.
Another striking observation is the rapid decline in Chinese revenue in the quarter than ended on 29 January 2023 despite cryptocurrencies stabilised. Our assumption is that this decline was because of the new export restrictions introduced on 7 October 2022. What we also see in the same quarter is a jump in other countries. We know from the recent 10-K filing that Singapore, which has now been split own separately, is the biggest country in that segment and thus Singapore could have been used as an intermediary for the A100 and H100 chips.
In FY24 Q1 that ended 30 April 2023, when Nvidia put out its exuberant outlook, we see that Chinese revenue increases 67% q/q while the US market is only up 7% q/q despite this is the AI powerhouse. The other countries segment is down 31% q/q. It is quite striking that despite a hefty increase in Chinese revenue, Nvidia is only mentioning China once across their press release and investor presentation and that is a small note under its Automotive segment, that “some NEV customers in China are adjusting their production schedules to reflect slower-than-expected demand growth”.
If we put all the data points together it points towards that the new A800 and H800 are driving a lot of demand in China as Chinese technology companies are scrambling under directions of the government to catch up with US technology companies in AI. The fact that the US Commerce Department is considering changing the export rules suggest that the US government has picked up on this trend as well and is getting worried about what it means for the US leadership in AI technology.