Following the peak period of production in 3Q21, the supply of DRAM will likely begin to outpace demand in 4Q21, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations (the surplus of DRAM supply is henceforth referred to as “sufficiency ratio”, expressed as a percentage). In addition, while DRAM suppliers are generally carrying a healthy level of inventory, most of their clients in the end-product markets are carrying a higher level of DRAM inventory than what is considered healthy, meaning these clients will be less willing to procure additional DRAM going forward. TrendForce therefore forecasts a downward trajectory for DRAM ASP in 4Q21. More specifically, DRAM products that are currently in oversupply may experience price drops of more than 5% QoQ, and the overall DRAM ASP will likely decline by about 3-8% QoQ in 4Q21.
PC DRAM prices are expected to decline by 5-10% QoQ as market demand for notebook computers weakens
Although WFH and distance learning applications previously generated high demand for notebook computers, increasingly widespread vaccinations in Europe and North America have now weakened this demand, particularly for Chromebooks. As a result, global production of notebooks is expected to decline in 4Q21, in turn propelling the sufficiency ratio of PC DRAM to 1.38%, which indicates that PC DRAM will no longer be in short supply in 4Q21. However, PC DRAM accounts for a relatively low share of DRAM manufacturers’ DRAM supply bits, since these suppliers have allocated more production capacities to server DRAM, which is in relatively high demand. Hence, there will unlikely be a severe surplus of PC DRAM in 4Q21. It should also be pointed out that, on average, the current spot prices of PC DRAM modules are far lower than their contract prices for 3Q21. TrendForce therefore expects an imminent 5-10% QoQ decline in PC DRAM contract prices for 4Q21, with potential for declines that are even greater than 10% for certain transactions, as PC OEMs anticipate further price drops in PC DRAM prices in the future.
Server DRAM prices are expected to decline for the first time this year, by 0-5% QoQ due to high client-side inventory
CSPs in North America and China currently carry more than eight weeks’ worth of server DRAM inventory, with some carrying more than 10 weeks’ worth of inventory, as they procured massive amounts of server DRAM in the previous two quarters to avoid shipment issues with whole server units caused by component shortages. In view of this aggressive procurement effort, the overall demand for server DRAM has gradually slowed, although certain Tier 2 data centers are still procuring server DRAM to make up for previous gaps. As server DRAM buyers continue to gravitate towards destocking their server DRAM inventory in 4Q21, demand will likely fall short of the previous quarters. Furthermore, due to long lead times for certain key components, shipment of whole servers is also expected to undergo quarterly declines. On the supply side, the three major DRAM suppliers (Samsung, SK hynix, and Micron) reallocated some of their production capacity for mobile DRAM to server DRAM in early 2Q21, and this reallocated capacity is expected to gradually begin outputting server DRAM in 4Q21. Given the slowdown in server DRAM demand, contract negotiations for server DRAM procurement in 3Q21 lasted until early August. Although server DRAM contract prices underwent a 5-10% QoQ increase in 3Q21 due to suppliers’ best attempts during contract negotiations, further price hikes going forward are unlikely. TrendForce expects server DRAM prices to undergo a decline for the first time this year in 4Q21 with a QoQ drop of 0-5%.
Mobile DRAM prices are expected to remain relative unchanged from 3Q21 levels despite a possible price drop ahead of time at the end of the year
In light of fluctuations in the COVID-19 pandemic, the global demand for smartphones and the supply of smartphone components are both still at the risk of experiencing declines. In addition, after smartphone brands revised down their production targets at the end of 2Q21, brands and distributors alike have been facing the pressure of high smartphone inventory levels. In response to factors such as pandemic-related uncertainties and declines in mobile DRAM prices for 2022, smartphone brands will slow down their mobile DRAM procurement and prioritize inventory reduction instead. Hence, bit demand for mobile DRAM will decline even further in 4Q21. On the whole, given the uncertain state of the pandemic in the coming winter, smartphone brands will adopt a more conservative attitude towards both smartphone production and component procurement in 4Q21. As a result, even if DRAM suppliers are willing to lower mobile DRAM prices, such an effort will only result in limited sales growths. In addition, mobile DRAM still lags behind other DRAM product categories in terms of profitability, meaning a drop in mobile DRAM prices is unlikely. Taking these factors into account, TrendForce expects prices of discrete DRAM, eMCP, and uMCP to mostly hold flat in 4Q21 compared with 3Q21.
It should be noted that, by the end of the year, DRAM suppliers may potentially start supplying mobile DRAM at 1Q22 prices ahead of time, primarily for two reasons: First, DRAM suppliers will be faced with revenue performance pressures at the end of the year; second, smartphones and DRAM suppliers will enter into new LTAs (long term agreements) for 2022. These factors are expected to impact mobile DRAM ASP for 4Q21 and bring about a price drop ahead of time.
Graphics DRAM contract prices are expected to decline by 0-5% QoQ due to excess supply
Market demand for discrete graphics cards and notebook graphics cards still remains due to the stable market for commercial notebooks and the resurging cryptocurrency mining market, which saw cryptocurrency prices rebounding from rock bottom levels within the past two months. However, severe issues with the availability of components in the graphics card supply chain currently present the most significant bottleneck in graphics card production. In particular, components such as driver IC, PMIC, and other peripheral components are all in shortage, while graphics DRAM is in relative oversupply compared to these other components. Graphics card manufacturers are therefore revising down their graphics DRAM procurement. Consequently, even though DRAM suppliers have not significantly increased their graphics DRAM production, demand from the purchasing end will remain sluggish until the shortage of other components is resolved. Demand for graphics DRAM will unlikely see a resurgence before the end of 2021. On the supply side, the three major DRAM suppliers are primarily focused on GDDR6 for their current graphics DRAM production. As well, graphics card demand from the cryptocurrency mining market is generally aimed at newer graphics cards that feature GDDR6 memory. Accordingly, both production and sales of GDDR5 memory are relatively weak, and this bearish trend is especially reflected in spot prices. As spot prices are the first to enter a downturn, and the aforementioned market conditions lead to sluggish procurement activities, graphics DRAM prices are in turn expected to plummet from previous levels in 4Q21, although this decline is projected at a minor 0-5% QoQ owing to DRAM suppliers’ efforts to keep prices constant.
QoQ decline of DDR4 Consumer DRAM prices is expected to be among the highest drops, at 5-10% as procurement activities decelerate
Gradual easing of lockdowns in Europe and North America has led to a decline in consumer spending on home entertainment applications. This, along with the severe shortage in electronic components, has adversely affected the demand for consumer electronics, such as TVs, STBs (set-top boxes), and networking devices, as well as industrial-use products, thereby also reducing the procurement demand for consumer DRAM. On the other hand, while DRAM suppliers were in the process of transitioning from DDR3 manufacturing to other products, the massive price hike of DDR3 products in 1H21 led DRAM suppliers to slow this transition. Even so, certain market conditions are now placing downward pressure on DDR3 prices, so next year the three major suppliers may potentially speed up the transition of mature DDR3 manufacturing to other products, such as CMOS image sensors or other logic ICs, instead. As server and PC manufacturers’ DRAM inventory level rises, contract prices of those DRAM products will likely decline in 4Q21. Thus, given that the movement of DDR4 consumer DRAM prices is highly correlated with PC DRAM and server DRAM and has been trending relatively high, DDR4 consumer DRAM prices are expected to decline by 5-10% QoQ in 4Q21. Likewise, although the supply of DDR3 consumer DRAM has been gradually decreasing, DDR3 consumer DRAM prices will also undergo an overall decline, particularly for 4Gb chips. DDR3 consumer DRAM prices are expected to decline by 3-8% QoQ in 4Q21.
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