Now that the chip shortage has persisted for more than half a year, markets and industries are closely monitoring whether chip demand is as strong as expected, or whether the current shortage is a mere mirage caused by overbooked orders from clients in fear of insufficient components.
At any rate, analyzing the current chip shortage entails doing so on both the supply and the demand ends. First of all, with regards to the demand for automotive chips, which has been in the spotlight for the past two quarters, automakers first began suffering from a shortage of automotive chips last year. This took place because automotive electronics suppliers, which had historically maintained a relatively low inventory level, slashed their chip orders placed at foundries ahead of other foundry clients at the onset of the coronavirus crisis in early 2020.
Hence, once automotive demand saw a sudden upturn later on, these automotive electronics suppliers found themselves unable to place additional orders at foundries, whose production capacities had by this time become fully loaded. Automotive chips subsequently began experiencing a shortage as a result.
At the same time, demand for CIS, DDI, and PMICs skyrocketed owing to the global 5G rollout and to the spike in demand for PCs and TVs caused by the proliferation of WFH. Given that foundries had already been experiencing fully loaded capacities across their mature technologies required for fabricating these chips, most clients had no choice but to resort to upping their volume of chip orders in orders to ensure that they are allocated sufficient foundry capacities.
Brands’ order placement strategies
On the other hand, several brands of electronic devices have been overbooking their chips to mitigate the risk of the chip shortage that began last year as well as the increased shipping times. These brands span the notebook computer, TV, and smartphone industries.
Of these three industries, smartphone brands have been overbooking foundry capacities due to the aforementioned expectation of chip shortage and most smartphone brands’ ongoing attempt to seize market shares left in Huawei’s wake. It should be pointed out that, however, in response to lackluster sales during the May 1st Labor Day in China, most brands have now lowered their production targets.
Foundries, on the other hand, had already been experiencing fully loaded capacities due to high demand from various end devices. Hence, they were unable to reach the volume of orders that were overbooked by smartphone brands despite adjusting their product mixes and reallocating production capacities. As such, although smartphone brands have lowered their production targets, capacities across the foundry industry remain fully loaded.
“Brands are responding to the market situation by strategically procuring components. Even if they were to adjust their production targets, they could still adjust their purchases of raw materials and consumables. Actors in the supply chain are unlikely to rigorously examine the inventory levels of brands before any unexpected changes occur in either demand or material shortages”
Conversely, with regards to the notebook and TV industries, they had mostly experienced bullish demand in the past few quarters, meaning sales performances are mostly a non-issue. Their procurement efforts have thus been focused on taking stock of the supply of raw materials and consumables, and these efforts have been guided by a principle of stocking up on demand. This is in accordance with both the bullish sales and the expectations of the companies themselves.
Generally speaking, TV and notebook use the term of strategic stocking as an excuse to mitigate any doubts of rising inventory levels from market observers. For the supply chains of these industries, the current state of the market is primarily dictated by the demand side. Actors in the supply chain are unlikely to rigorously examine the inventory levels of brands before any unexpected changes occur in either demand or material shortages.
Taken together, the supply and demand situations of the notebook, smartphone, and TV markets, in addition to the capacity utilization rate of foundries, would seem to indicate that the inventory adjustments caused by overbooking is unlikely to taken place in the short run, contrary to the market’s fears. TrendForce currently expects the shortage of foundry capacities to persist at least until 1H22, only after which is the supply and demand situation in the semiconductor market like to gradually return to an equilibrium.
As Samsung Display (SDC) decided to extend the manufacturing operations of its Korea-based Gen 8.5 LCD fab, and tier-two panel suppliers are still slow to reassign their production capacities from TV panels to IT panels, TrendForce expects total TV panel shipment for 2021 to reach 269 million units, which is relatively unchanged compared to 2020 levels. Panel suppliers will continue to focus on large-sized TV panels this year in response to several industry-wide developments, including M&A, reduced production capacities, improved manufacturing technologies, and increased panel demand. Furthermore, as the persistent price hike of TV panels continues to reduce the profit margins of TV sets, TV brands have started to gravitate towards larger, more profitable TV sizes. TrendForce therefore expects the average TV panel size this year to increase by 1.6 inches and move towards 50 inches.
TrendForce analyst Jeanette Chan indicates that the shift towards large-sized panels is an effective means of expending the production capacity of panel suppliers. Case in point, due to the limited production capacity for TV panels in 1H21, not only are TV panels currently in short supply, but TV panel prices are also on the rise. On the other hand, the demand for TV panels in 2H21 will depend on several key factors: first, whether the increased retail price of TV sets will hamper consumer demand; second, whether the pandemic will be effectively brought under control as more countries begin vaccinations; third, whether the impending global economic recovery will be a significant one. And finally, whether a market bubble will appear as a result of TV manufacturers’ overbooking panel orders in anticipation of potential hindrances including the price hike of materials in the upstream supply chain, the shortage of glass substrates due to such accidents as facility fires, the shortage of IC supply, and the extended shipping times.
Thanks to their persistently rising production capacity and successful acquisitions, China-based BOE and CSOT, the two largest panel suppliers in the world, are expected to collectively account for about 40% of total TV panel shipment this year. At the same time, BOE and CSOT are actively improving their technologies and making a push for high-end products, such as 8K, ZBD, and AM Mini LED. By leveraging their improved technologies and available funds, the two companies are likely to extend their operations upstream by systematically undertaking vertical integrations.
On the other hand, HKC, which is currently raising its production capacity, has garnered much attention in the market amidst the current shortage situation of TV panels. Along with its Changsha-based H5 fab, which is set to kick off mass production shortly, HKC possesses four Gen 8.6 fabs in total. By raising its production capacity and engaging in additional strategic partnerships with tier-one TV brands, HKC is expected to enter the top three ranking of panel suppliers by TV panel shipment for the first time ever, with a shipment of about 41.91 million units this year, a 33.7% increase YoY.
Taiwan-based AUO and Innolux are expected to experience YoY decreases in their shipments this year as their production capacities are relatively limited, although both companies’ efforts to optimize their products and engage in cross-industry partnerships have brought them certain competitive advantages. In particular, AUO is leading the panel industry in developing not only ultra-high-end products, such as 8K+ZBD, but also Micro LED displays, whereas Innolux holds competitive advantages in product diversity and in-house ODM services. It should be pointed out that these two Taiwanese companies are able to deal with the current IC shortage situation better than their competitors because their parent companies have longstanding business relationships with IC design companies.
With regards to Korean suppliers, although LGD and SDC have both prolonged their LCD manufacturing operations in Korea in order to satisfy the current bullish market demand, the two companies are primarily focusing on transitioning their offerings to new products. LGD will expand the OLED production capacity of its Guangzhou fab in 2Q21 as part of its effort to dominate the OLED market. As for SDC, the company has dropped out of the top six ranking this year as a result of its lowered production capacity. However, new TV sets featuring SDC’s QD-OLED panels are expected to officially hit the market in 4Q21, in turn driving SDC’s yearly TV panel shipment to 2 million units in 2022.
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