The latest official data from South Korea, the world’s largest memory production country, indicates a turnaround in October’s memory exports, marking the first growth in nearly 16 months. Meanwhile, the latest report from the Taiwan Semiconductor Industry Association (TSIA) anticipates a quarter-on-quarter growth of 9.1% in Taiwan’s memory and other manufacturing output for this season, leading the semiconductor manufacturing industry.
These signals suggest a recovery in the memory market. Key players in Taiwan’s memory industry, such as Nanya Technology and Winbond, are expected to see significant operational momentum.
South Korea stands as the world’s largest memory manufacturing country, with Samsung and SK Hynix ranking as the top two global DRAM manufacturers, collectively holding a market share of approximately 70%. They also play a significant role in NAND Flash storage memory, with Samsung leading the global market and SK Hynix being among the top five manufacturers. The shift in South Korea’s memory export figures to growth signifies a stabilization in global memory demand, making it a crucial indicator for the industry’s recovery.
The South Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy announced on November 14th that in October, South Korea’s memory exports increased by 1% compared to the same period last year, a significant improvement from the 18% YoY decline in September.
Notably, the export rebound was led by a 12.2% growth in semiconductor packaging, and the YoY decline rate in DRAM exports also narrowed to a single digit, marking the first time in over a year.
The TSIA also cited data from the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) International Division yesterday, estimating an 8% quarterly increase in Taiwan’s foundry production value in the fourth quarter. Additionally, the memory and other manufacturing sectors are expected to see a 9.1% quarterly increase, leading all semiconductor manufacturing industries. This underscores the ongoing recovery in the memory industry.
Taiwanese memory manufacturers are optimistic about the future market outlook. Nanya Technology’s General Manager, Pei-Ing Lee, analyzing the demand side, Lee notes that the server market displayed relative weakness in the first three quarters of the year. However, with the increasing demand in cloud services, a recovery is foreseen in the fourth quarter. In the mobile phone market, there are signs of a rebound in demand in the Chinese market after experiencing a period of weakness for at least a year. Additionally, the PC market is experiencing a positive impact from the rising demand for DDR5, leading to a comparatively healthy performance.
Winbond Electronics is also expressing positive sentiment towards the upcoming market developments. Since the fourth quarter of last year, Winbond Electronics has been adjusting production in response to market weakness, initially announcing a 40% production cut. As demand improves, the recent reduction in production has been reduced to 20%, and the shipment volume is expected to increase in the fourth quarter. Prices are anticipated to remain stable or experience a slight decline, with overall operations not expected to be worse than the third quarter, offering a hopeful outlook for slight improvement.
Winbond Electronics anticipates that if terminal demand remains similar to or consistent with this year in 2024, with manufacturers having depleted their inventories, purchasing power will rebound.
The company’s analysis suggests that this trend will be observed across various markets, including PCs, laptops, and smartphones. Additionally, the server domain is expected to return to growth as well.
TrendForce reports indicate a price increase for both DRAM and NAND Flash starting in the fourth quarter. DRAM prices, for instance, are projected to see a quarterly surge of about 3-8%.
According to Economic Daily News’ report, the DDR3 market is experiencing a surge in prices, with an almost 10% short-term increase. Contract prices for this quarter are expected to rise by 10% to 15%, with a continued optimistic outlook for the first quarter of next year.
Market analysts point out that global leaders like Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron currently dominate standard DRAM and NAND Flash. Taiwan-based companies are unable to compete with them in chip production, except for module companies which have the potential to capitalize on the rebound of the DRAM and NAND market due to their advantage of low-cost inventory.
On the other hand, DDR3 production remains primarily under Taiwan’s purview, and the price surge is significant, providing substantial assistance to Taiwanese memory industry players.
Industry sources indicate that the main impetus behind the current memory market upswing stems from the continual reduction in production by major international manufacturers. With tightening capacities, they are strictly controlling shipments, displaying their determination to support the price increases.
Besides, companies like Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron are actively venturing into AI applications, shifting their main capacity to produce high-bandwidth memory, DDR5, and other advanced areas. This shift has created room in the DDR3 market. Recent replenishment of inventories on the client end, along with a surge in orders for consumer electronics, has been witnessed.
TrendForce indicated that DDR3 prices have been steadily rising since September. The cumulative increase for DDR3 4Gb has reached nearly 10%, while DDR3 2Gb has shown a cumulative rise of 14%; regarding contract prices, TrendForce expects a robust increase of 10% to 15% for this quarter, with a continued strength forecasted for the first quarter of next year, likely to rise another 5% to 10%.
DDR3-related companies are optimistic about market developments. Etron believes that with inventory digestion coming to an end, “the cyclical bottom is over,” and they are gradually heading towards the dawn of recovery. They hold a positive outlook for significant growth in the global DRAM market next year.
ESMT, on the other hand, continues to advance the progress of their in-house products. They are continuously developing new products in DRAM, Flash, and MCP, expanding into different markets. This includes accelerating the development of 19-nanometer DRAM, achieving mass production of 28-nanometer NAND Flash, and researching niche memory products for automotive applications.
Winbond’s General Manager, Pei-Ming Chen, points out that their operations for this quarter will be better than the third quarter and they have a positive view of the DRAM market for next year.
The pandemic has impeded the supply of many end-user devices such as smartphones, servers, PCs, and niche consumer electronics components, indirectly leading to a decline in a willingness on the procurement-end to stock relatively abundant memory chips, according to TrendForce research. This is most obvious in the stance of PC OEMs holding more than 10 weeks or more of DRAM inventory. Therefore, most DRAM fabs experienced a drop in shipments in the fourth quarter of 2021 and declining purchasing momentum has also led to a downward trend in DRAM price quotations. Total 4Q21 DRAM output value decreased by 5.8% QoQ, reaching US$25.03 billion, with only a few suppliers such as SK hynix bucking this trend.
Looking forward to 1Q22, although material shortages for some components can be alleviated, the first quarter is already an off season for demand and buyers’ inventories are still flush. Thus, the purchasing-side will largely concentrate on destocking, with overall purchasing momentum remaining sluggish. Thus, DRAM pricing in the first quarter of this year is expected to face greater pressure than in the fourth quarter of last year and overall DRAM output value may fall further.
4Q21 DRAM price drop causes downturn in manufacturer profit levels
In terms of revenue performance, price quotations from the three major DRAM manufacturers all declined with slightly differing shipments trends. Shipments from both Samsung and Micron fell due to poor end-user demand, with revenue down 9% and 8%, respectively. In terms of market share, Samsung dropped slightly to 42.3% while still ranking first, SK hynix climbed to nearly 30%, ranking second, and Micron dropped slightly to 22.3%. Pricing gaps between these three DRAM manufacturers in 1Q22 is expected to be narrow, but since SK hynix had a relatively high base period of shipment in the 4Q21, the company expects a decline in its shipments slightly higher than the industry average which will reduce its 1Q22 market share slightly.
In terms of profit performance, the operating profit margins of Samsung, SK hynix, and Micron (September-November financial reporting) fell to 50%, 45%, and 41%, respectively, due to the cost optimization resulting from an increase in the proportion of advanced processes not being enough to make up for the decline in price quotations. TrendForce believes that the downturn trend in profit margins is likely to intensify in 1Q22 and DRAM suppliers will face sharper profit decline. Manufacturers can only increase the proportion of advanced processes and optimize their product portfolio to reduce the impact brought on by price pressure.
Specialty DRAM market conditions also weak in 4Q21, with Taiwanese manufacturer revenue falling as well
As the demand for specialty DRAM end-user applications such as TVs and consumer electronics products dropped significantly in 4Q21, coupled with the impact of material shortages in the supply chain, client demand for DRAM shipments also cooled substantially. The 4Q21 specialty DRAM price decline was also comparable to that of mainstream products, in turn impacting the revenue performance of Taiwanese manufacturers focused mainly on the consumer market. From the perspective of Nanya Tech, the combination of falling volume and price reduced its revenue in 4Q21 by approximately 10%, while its operating profit rate fell to 37.5% due to the decline in price quotations. Winbond’s small-capacity (1/2Gb) market was also affected by components mismatch issues, but the impact was relatively small and its 4Q21 revenue fell slightly by close to 4%. PSMC’s (revenue calculation is primarily based on its self-produced standard DRAM products and does not include its DRAM foundry business) revenue fell slightly by approximately 1%. If its foundry revenue is added, then its revenue grew by 6%, reversing a downward trend. This demonstrates that locking-in long-term contracts early is a good strategy.
Faced with reversal in the DRAM market, it is TrendForce’s understanding that the solutions of the three major Taiwanese manufacturers are as follows: Nanya Tech can allocate 20nm production capacity to produce DDR3 (better gross profit) when DDR4 market conditions are poor and invest more resources in the research and development of new 1X nm processes. If yield improves rapidly, this will provide some contribution before the completion of its new factory in 2024. In addition to continuing to focus on niche small-capacity products, Winbond is also strengthening research and development of 25 nm and next-generation 20 nm products, expected to be introduced directly when its Kaohsiung Lujhu factory starts mass production. As for PSMC, by locking clients into long-term contracts, it can plan 2022 production in advance and continue to maximize its greatest advantages. In accordance with market conditions and gross profit levels, it will allocate production capacity between logic IC and memory products.
DRAM contract prices are likely to exit a bullish period that lasted three quarters and be on the downswing in 4Q21 at a QoQ decline of 3-8%, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. This decline can be attributed to not only the declining procurement activities of DRAM buyers going forward, but also the drop in DRAM spot prices ahead of contract prices. While the buying and selling sides attempt to gain the advantage in future transactions, the DRAM market’s movement in 2022 will primarily be determined by suppliers’ capacity expansion strategies in conjunction with potential growths in demand. The capacity expansion plans of the three largest DRAM suppliers (Samsung, SK hynix, and Micron) for 2022 are expected to remain conservative, resulting in a 17.9% growth in total DRAM bit supply next year. On the demand side, inventory levels at the moment are relatively high. Hence, DRAM bit demand is expected to grow by 16.3% next year and lag behind bit supply growth. TrendForce therefore forecasts a shift in the DRAM market next year from shortage to surplus.
Total DRAM bit supply is projected to grow by 17.9% in 2022 in light of DRAM suppliers’ low inventory levels and resurging demand in the server market
As buyers expanded their DRAM procurement in 1H21 in response to supply chain disruptions, DRAM suppliers were able to register better-than-expected shipment performances and reduce their inventory levels considerably. These suppliers are now bullish on the growth of DRAM bit demand generated by the resurging server market. In particular, while Samsung and SK hynix have marginally increased their wafer input for DRAM products, DRAM suppliers’ process technologies are continuing to migrate towards the 1Z nm and 1alpha nm nodes. TrendForce therefore expects total DRAM bit supply to increase by 17.9% YoY in 2022.
Most of Samsung’s wafer input growth takes place in the P2L fab, which houses relatively large physical spaces. As the prevailing market leader, Samsung will likely continue to increase wafer input for DRAM products going forward. The company’s DRAM bit supply growth for 2022 is expected to reach 19.6%, the highest out of the three dominant suppliers, despite the relatively modest growth in Samsung’s current wafer input, most of which comes from advanced process technologies. It should also be pointed out that Samsung’s newest fab P3L is expected to be fully built by mid-2022. P3L will likely contribute to DRAM production by a limited amount next year but continue to provide further growth for Samsung’s DRAM supply after 2023.
Given the bear market for DDR3 memory, SK hynix will likely speed up the reallocation of wafer capacity from DRAM to logic IC products at its old M10 fab next year. After kicking off DRAM production at its newest M16 fab this year, SK hynix will see its total production capacity for DRAM chips continue expanding in 2022, although the company will also adjust its DRAM output according to the state of the market. SK hynix is currently focused on raising the yield rates of its 1Y nm and 1Z nm process technologies, which will contribute to the forecasted 17.7% increase in SK hynix’s total DRAM bit supply next year.
The latest expansions at Micron’s A3 fab are primarily undertaken as a safeguard against possible wafer losses during the fab’s upcoming transition to next-gen process technologies. Hence, Micron’s total production capacity will unlikely undergo drastic changes for the 2021-2022 period, and growths in its DRAM bit output will be mostly derived from the increased yield of the 1Z nm and the latest 1alpha nm process technologies. In addition, DRAM products manufactured with Micron’s 1alpha nm process technology have been widely adopted by clients, and Micron has been making the fastest progress in terms of process technology migration among the three largest DRAM suppliers. The company is expected to increase its DRAM bit supply by 16.3% next year.
Regarding Taiwanese suppliers, Nanya Tech is expected to finalize the construction of its new fab in 2024, while Winbond’s new fab is expected to kick off only pilot runs in 2H22. Taiwanese suppliers are therefore expected to make very limited contributions to the increase in total DRAM bit supply in 2022.
DRAM bit demand is expected to increase by merely 16.3% in 2022, as the bear market for various products results in a high base period in 2021
The smartphone, server, and notebook computer segments comprise the three largest sources of DRAM consumption. All three product categories have been seeing tremendous growth in 2021, thereby resulting in a high base period for comparison against next year’s figures, meaning that significant YoY growths in these products’ production and shipment, and subsequently their DRAM consumption, for 2022 are unlikely to take place. Furthermore, the ongoing shortage of components has continued to affect various industries and constrain device assembly, leading to a decline in demand for DRAM, since OEMs/ODMs are carrying a relatively high level of DRAM inventory. For 2022, DRAM bit demand is expected to increase by only 16.3% and lag behind DRAM bit supply.
Regarding smartphones, while the shortage of key components such as chipsets and driver ICs remains unresolved, total smartphone shipment for 1Q22, which is already a period of cyclical downturn, will fall below expectations. Although the upcoming release of new models is expected to bring about quarterly increases in smartphone production, TrendForce’s current forecast indicates an annual production volume of about 1.4 billion units for 2022, a modest 3.5% YoY growth. This forecasted figure will likely be subject to additional declines if the shortage of semiconductor components extends further. As such, the main growth driver of mobile DRAM demand in 2022 is expected to be the increase in “content per box” (which refers to the total DRAM contained within each individual handset). For 2022, mobile DRAM will account for approximately 40% of total DRAM bit consumption; there will likely be a 15% increase in mobile DRAM bit demand as well. This increase represents a relatively sluggish performance, as mobile DRAM demand generally increased by more than 20% YoY in previous years.
The server industry likewise faced supply chain-related issues, including disruptions in server assembly operations based in Southeast Asia, as well as shortages of PMICs and passive components. With these issues projected to persist through 2022, total server shipment is expected to increase by 4.3% in 2022, primarily thanks to CSPs’ data center expansions. On the other hand, the rise in Intel Ice Lake CPUs’ market share this year has led DRAM suppliers to manufacture more high-density dies (16Gb mono die) due to the server market’s surging demand for 64GB modules. Once Intel’s next-gen Xeon server CPUs, Sapphire Rapids, enter the market next year, the penetration rate of 64GB server DRAM modules is expected to surpass 60%. Hence, server DRAM bit demand is projected to increase by 20% in 2022, the highest among all DRAM product categories.
Annual shipment of notebook computers for 2022 is projected to reach 222 million units, a nearly 7% YoY decrease, owing to increased vaccination rates in Europe and North America. However, as WFH and distance education become the norm, annual notebook shipment will undergo some growth in the medium to long term, without falling back down to pre-pandemic levels. Although Chromebooks remained the fastest-growing product category among all notebooks in 1H21, demand for Chromebooks has been steadily declining in 2H21 due to the increased Chromebook inventory carried by distribution channels in response to high demand for educational notebooks in 1H21. Instead, demand has shifted to commercial notebooks, which are equipped with more DRAM capacity, and this shift will persist through 2022. Total PC DRAM bit demand is expected to increase by more than 15% next year.
DRAM revenue for 2022 will likely be mostly flat as bit shipment growth offsets decline in quotes
On the whole, DRAM suppliers have performed exceptionally well this year in terms of bit shipments thanks to OEMs’ energetic stock-up activities. The annual total revenue of the DRAM industry is also projected to surpass US$90 billion in 2021 because of the price uptrend and the growth in bit shipments. However, the DRAM market will begin to see prices falling in 4Q21 and a sharpening downtrend in 1H22. The overall ASP of DRAM products for the whole 2022 is projected to register a YoY drop of 15-20%. On the other hand, the YoY growth rates of DRAM suppliers’ bit shipments will also be within a similar range for next year. This means that the bit shipment growth will mostly offset the price decline, thereby keeping the total DRAM revenue for 2022 at a similar level to this year. There are still uncertainties as to the movements of DRAM prices during 2H22. If prices manage to rally, then the annual total DRAM revenue may again reach a new high.
For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Semiconductor Research, please click here, or email Ms. Latte Chung from the Sales Department at firstname.lastname@example.org
As the three dominant DRAM suppliers (Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron) are currently experiencing a shortage in their production capacities, the corresponding shortage situation in the DRAM market has yet to be resolved, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Taking advantage of the fact that the whole DRAM market has entered a period of cyclical upturn in 1Q21, DRAM suppliers have significantly raised quotes for specialty DRAM products. This extraordinary development has led to price hikes that are almost double digits for some specialty DRAM chips. Furthermore, the magnitude of the price hike especially widens for products belonging to the lower part of the density range and the more niche applications. Looking at MoM changes in contract prices of specialty DRAM products for February, DDR2 and DDR3 chips saw the largest price hikes. Prices of DDR4 chips also went up due to the influence of the rising quotes for DDR3 chips. The average contract price of DDR3 4Gb chips, which are still mainstream for specialty applications, jumped 6.8% MoM.
As for DDR3 2Gb chips that are primarily promoted by Taiwan-based suppliers, TrendForce indicates that there is not enough supply even as quotes are being offered. With this situation becoming the norm, the price range (i.e., the difference between the high and low prices) has also expanded dramatically. The average contract price of DDR3 2Gb chips rose by nearly 9% MoM in February. Samsung significantly raised quotes for DDR4 4Gb chips in response to the sharp upswing in prices of DDR3 chips. The low and average prices of DDR4 4Gb chips for specialty applications both climbed around 6% MoM. The average price of DDR4 8Gb chips went up by around 4% MoM as the price trend of this product aligns with the general price trends of mainstream PC DRAM and server DRAM products. However, it should be pointed out that the hikes in contract prices of specialty DRAM chips were mainly the result of the adjustments made to monthly contract deals and thus reflected the market situation of February. By contrast, prices held steady for quarterly lock-in deals with tier-1 clients.
While the three dominant DRAM suppliers have been slowing down their DDR3 manufacturing, Taiwanese suppliers are constantly adjusting their capacity allocation to maximize profits
With demand getting hotter in the specialty DRAM market, DDR3 products are starting to surpass DDR4 products and logic ICs in profit margin. Consequently, DRAM suppliers are also changing their strategies. Looking at South Korean suppliers, Samsung will continue shifting the wafer production capacity of Line 13 to CMOS image sensors over the long term. However, this reassignment has now been scaled down for this year due to the recent surge in specialty DRAM prices. Likewise, SK Hynix will keep the DRAM production capacity of its older fab M10 relatively constant through 2021 after reducing it in 2020. As for Micron, it has raised the yield rates of the 1Z-nm and 1-alpha processes, so the output shares of products based on these more advanced technologies will gradually expand. Since the available fab space in Taiwan is limited, Micron will relocate the 20nm and more mature processes to Fab 6 in the US. In sum, the output of DDR3 products from the three dominant suppliers will continue to shrink, but the pace of the reduction is now slower than originally expected.
Regarding Taiwan-based suppliers, Nanya has shifted some 20nm and 30nm production capacity from DDR4 products back to DDR3 products. Winbond has been focusing on Flash products in the recent years, and its DRAM production capacity will remain fairly limited until the completion of its new fab in Kaohsiung. Nevertheless, Winbond is concentrating its DRAM production efforts on low-density DDR2 and DDR3 products (i.e., 1Gb and 2Gb chips). It actually has the advantage of being able to raise prices as its market share for low-density products is fairly large. As for PSMC, it has been focusing on foundry manufacturing of logic ICs for a while. However, with prices now rising for foundry manufacturing of DDR3 products, PSMC now wants to shift some wafer production capacity back to DRAM. Going forward, the three Taiwan-based suppliers will keep adjusting their capacity allocation strategies in accordance with changes in the profit margins of different products. Nevertheless, even as suppliers are now changing their product mixes to take advantage of the latest market situation, TrendForce projects that specialty DRAM products will be in undersupply at least through 1H21. The magnitudes of price hikes for various types of specialty DRAM products will depend on suppliers’ capacity allocation strategies.
For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Semiconductor Research, please click here, or email Ms. Latte Chung from the Sales Department at email@example.com