Popular Arbitrage Trade Backfires as TSMC Frenzy Grows in US

(Bloomberg) — The long-favored arbitrage strategy of buying Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.’s Taipei shares while shorting its US listing is starting to become painful.

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The enthusiasm over artificial intelligence in the US has pushed TSMC’s American depositary receipts to their most expensive price versus the Taiwan stock since 2009 this quarter, data compiled by Bloomberg show. As of Friday, they traded at a premium of around 21%, compared with less than 8% for the five-year average. It reached a high of 30% during the Lunar New Year in February, when the Taiwanese stock market was closed.

“A lot of people have set it up and are hoping that it collapses back to its longer-term, fair value level,” said Jon Withaar, head of Asia special situations at Pictet Asset Management. But the premium could still go higher, “and then there’ll be a lot of pain,” he added.

TSMC’s cutting-edge technology and reasonable valuation have made it a favorite play among global investors in AI. The ADRs have surged 66% this year through Friday, compared with a 55% advance in Taipei shares. Yet both are trading much lower than their valuation highs of 2021.

The ADRs have outperformed because they’re more easily accessible to foreign investors. They’re also included in gauges like the Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index and in exchange-traded products such as the VanEck Semiconductor ETF and iShares Semiconductor ETF, meaning that funds tracking them must buy the US-listed securities.

“It’s supply/demand dynamics,” said Brian Freitas, founder of research firm Periscope Analytics. “Not all foreign investors can hold the Taiwan stock so they just prefer owning the ADRs. Plus there are some indices which only reference the ADR, so ETFs then basically buy up the US shares.”

Beyond that, TSMC’s ADRs have typically traded at a premium because they’re fungible, unlike the Taiwan shares, which need special regulatory approval to be converted into the US equivalent. The Asian security is also already heavily owned by fund managers, making it difficult for them to increase their position further.

Also read: TSMC’s 42% Stock Surge Leads to Weighting Limits for Some Funds

For now though, the AI sector remains hot, with Nvidia Corp. worth more than $3 trillion in market value and a gauge tracking semiconductor shares at a record high. TSMC’s ADRs premium over the local stock has climbed to an average of almost 17% this quarter after reaching 30% in February.

“The AI boom is not over,” Withaar said. “I’m happy to wait for a crescendo widening and perhaps even panic unwinding.”

Top Tech News

  • Microsoft Corp. Japan President Miki Tsusaka says Japan has been one of the fastest countries to embrace the use of new artificial intelligence tools and has the potential to accelerate its economy and tech sector by going further.

  • TDK Corp. investors have yet to price in the full potential of the current boom in artificial intelligence, its CEO said in a rare market commentary from a Japanese business leader.

(A previous version of this story corrected this year’s move in the Taiwanese shares.)

–With assistance from Betty Hou.

(Updates with additional context in second paragraph)

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