The NAND Flash market remained in undersupply in the first quarter of 2017 as it had been in the preceding quarter, according to the latest report from DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce. Despite seasonality, the average contract price of NAND Flash chips in the channel market actually surged by 20~25% in the first quarter compared with last year’s fourth quarter. Also, prices of mobile storage products such as eMCP, eMMC and UFS are still climbing. NAND Flash suppliers therefore can expect positive revenue outlook for the entire 2017.
“The overall production capacity for 2D-NAND has fallen during the industry-wide migration to 3D-NAND manufacturing,” said Alan Chen, senior research manager of DRAMeXchange. “As the market has yet to regain its balance following this disruption, contract prices of NAND Flash chips will keep going up.”
Despite this first quarter being the traditional slow season for end device shipments, the reduction in the 2D-NAND capacity was severe enough to result in tight supply during the period. Consequently, the NAND Flash industry saw just a slight revenue dip in the first quarter. With shortage being the overarching trend for the entire year, NAND Flash suppliers can also expect sequential revenue increases from the second to the final quarter.
Samsung’s revenue for this first quarter fell by 5.8% compared with the preceding three-month period, but the supplier saw a significant increase in its operating margin. In addition to the favorable market condition, Samsung has been optimizing its NAND Flash product mix to give more weight to SSD products. For the first quarter, SSDs accounted for more than 40% of Samsung’s product mix. This contributed to Samsung’s revenue during period as ASPs of SSDs rose due to supply shortages. Furthermore, Samsung has been enjoying strong sales of its high-capacity SSDs for the enterprise market.
Demand from China’s smartphone and SSD markets drove SK Hynix’s first-quarter revenue. Furthermore, the general tight supply in the NAND Flash market resulted in an about 15% increase in SK Hynix’s ASPs for NAND Flash products compared with the fourth quarter. Though SK Hynix’s first-quarter NAND Flash bit shipments fell by 3% versus the prior quarter, but the supplier maintained healthy profit margins for all of its storage product lines.
Thanks to the overall market dynamics, Toshiba is in a more favorable position in price negotiations for its NAND Flash products. In terms of product strategy, Toshiba concentrated on supplying Apple last year. This year’s first quarter, however, the company has adjusted its product mix as to distribute production capacity more evenly among its different product lines. Compared with the preceding quarter, Toshiba’s first-quarter NAND Flash revenue fell by around 6.5% to about US$1.97 billion. Nonetheless, the supplier is maintaining a healthy profit level.
Western Digital reported a subtle revenue increase of 0.3% for the first quarter compared with the prior quarter. This increase was in line with the mild increases in Western Digital’s bit shipments. At the same time, the supplier benefited from small hikes in ASPs of its NAND Flash products. The revenue growth also reflected the dominance of SSDs in Western Digital’s storage business.
With the acquisition of SanDisk completed, Western Digital’s strategic focus will be high-capacity storage solutions and the adoption of the 3D-NAND technology that is being jointly developed with Toshiba. Furthermore, Western Digital is going to streamline the overlapping businesses of SanDisk to help enlarge its revenue growth.
As with other suppliers, Micron’s revenue rose due to the general undersupply. Another contributing factor was the company’s adjustment of its product mix. Micron’s first-quarter NAND Flash bit shipments grew versus the preceding quarter, while ASPs of its NAND Flash products remained stable. On the whole, Micron’s first-quarter NAND Flash-related revenue rose by 11% compared with the prior quarter to around US$1.41 billion.
Intel’s bit shipments for first quarter increased from the prior quarter as they rode on the growing server SSDs demand from enterprises and data centers. Consequently, the company’s NAND Flash revenue for the first quarter grew by 6.1% compared with the previous quarter to US$866 million.