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.