As the memory market faces oversupply and falling prices due to declining demand in 2023, there’s a glimmer of hope when looking into their Q4 guidance. Memory prices are gradually rising, indicating a potential escape from the market’s low point. The most recent financial reports from the world’s top five companies substantiate this positive outlook.
Mixed Results in the Financial Reports of Top 5 Giants
From the recent financial reports of Samsung, SK Hynix, Micron, Kioxia, and Western Digital reveal a slowdown in the rate of revenue loss despite some reporting losses. Some companies express optimism, noting a gradual recovery in certain downstream demand.
Samsung: Anticipating Q4 Demand Recovery
Samsung Electronics’ Q3 financial report shows a revenue of 6.74 trillion Korean won, a YoY decrease, but with a net profit exceeding expectations at 5.5 trillion won.
During their earnings call on October 31, Samsung highlighted the uncertainty in the recovery of the storage chip market. However, they remain optimistic about increased demand in Q4, driven by year-end promotions, new product releases from major clients, and growing demand for generative AI.
SK Hynix: Positive Signs in Market Conditions
SK Hynix’s report for the Q3 2023 fiscal year indicates improving market conditions, particularly due to increased demand for high-performance memory, especially in AI-related products. DRAM and NAND flash memory sales have grown, with a significant 20% QoQ increase in DRAM shipments. Rise of average prices also impacts the results. In the second half of the year, customers with reduced inventory are progressively increasing their procurement demands, leading to stable developments in product prices.
The company predicts continued improvement in the DRAM market and positive trends in NAND.
Micron: Storage Market Expected to Recover Next Year
Micron’s performance for the Q4 2023 fiscal year shows revenue of $4.01 billion, a 40% year-on-year decrease but better than market expectations. The DRAM business accounts for 69% of revenue, with $2.8 billion in revenue, an increase in bit shipments but a decrease in average selling price. NAND Flash revenue is $1.2 billion, with an increase in bit shipments but a decrease in ASP.
Micron expects Q1 revenue for the 2024 fiscal year to reach $4.2~4.6 billion, anticipating a recovery in the storage market in 2024 and further improvement in 2025.
Kioxia: Rebound in NAND Prices
Kioxia released its financial report for July to September 2023, with revenue of 241.4 billion yen, a 3.9% decrease QoQ and a 38.3% YoY decrease. Due to a decline in demand for smartphone and PC memory chips, the operating loss was 100.8 billion yen in the Q2. However, benefiting from the improvement in storage supply-demand balance, optimized storage portfolio, and the performance of the yen exchange rate, the operating loss has improved.
Although NAND shipments have decreased, the situation has improved due to the rebound in NAND prices. NAND bit shipments decreased by approximately 13%, and NAND ASP increased by about 8%. Looking ahead to 2024, Kioxia expects NAND prices to continue to rise with the original equipment company’s production reduction strategy and customer inventory normalization. Confidence in the NAND market’s recovery is expected, especially in data centers and enterprise SSD demand, after the first half of 2024.
Western Digital: Cloud Market Continues to Grow
Western Digital announced Q1 revenue for the 2024 fiscal year, totaling $2.75 billion, a 3% increase QoQ and a 26% YoY decrease. In the end market, the decline in flash memory prices was offset by the growth in flash memory shipments, driving some business growth on a QoQ basis.
CEO David Goeckeler stated that Q1 performance exceeded expectations, with profit margins for flash memory and HDD business continuously improving. He pointed out that the consumer and end-user markets performed well, and the cloud market is expected to continue growing. With market improvement, an improved cost structure enables the company to increase profitability.
Changing Supply and Demand Dynamics: Some Applications Boosting
Storage companies are adapting to the market by reducing capital expenditures and adjusting inventory, leading to a more normalized market inventory. Simultaneously, increased demand in AI servers, high-performance computing, and automotive intelligence instills confidence in the market.
In the second half of the year, there are clear signs of improvement in the supply and demand dynamics of storage chips. Demand for smartphones, laptops, and new product releases is driving positive trends. Some companies are witnessing strengthened customer demand, even accepting price increases.
In the server sector, AI servers are boosting demand for high-bandwidth memory (HBM), and DDR5 adoption is accelerating. In the automotive storage sector, electric vehicles, intelligence, and networking are propelling in-car storage demand, indicating promising developments in the automotive storage market. Other applications such as big data, cloud computing, and wearable devices related to high-speed storage, reliability, and data security also present growth potential, benefiting storage companies.
Comprehensive Rise in Storage Chips: Is a Turning Point Near?
According to TrendForce, the global NAND Flash market has experienced a comprehensive price increase in the Q4, driven by suppliers’ active production reduction strategies in 2023. Data from TrendForce indicates a general rise in Q4 NAND Flash contract prices, with an increase of about 8-13%.
TrendForce estimates a negative annual growth rate of -2.8% for supply in 2023, the first in several years. This has pushed the overall sufficiency ratio to -3.7%, forming the basis for stabilizing NAND Flash prices in the second half. However, the sustainability of the current upward trend remains unclear due to the lack of substantial terminal demand.
If demand recovers as expected in the second half of 2024, especially with the momentum of AI-related orders for server SSDs and a cautious approach by suppliers in resuming capacity utilization, the overall sufficiency ratio is expected to be controlled at -9.4%, accelerating the balance between supply and demand, and NAND Flash prices may show an upward trend throughout the year.
For DRAM, TrendForce predicts a seasonal increase of about 3-8% in DRAM contract prices in the Q4. The continuation of this upward trend depends on whether suppliers maintain their production reduction strategy and the actual recovery of demand, particularly in the general server.
During the MTS 2024 Storage Industry Trends Seminar, TrendForce highlighted three concerns for the memory market in 2024:
(1) Despite the reduction in inventory levels, it is essential to observe whether this reduction can be sustained and effectively transferred to buyers.
(2) Anticipating a rise in production capacity, an early recovery in operational rates due to market improvements may lead to another imbalance in supply and demand.
(3) Whether the demand from various end-users will align with the expected recovery or not, particularly the sustainability of orders related to AI.