According to TrendForce forecasts, average overall DRAM pricing in 2Q22 will drop by approximately 0~5%, due to marginally higher buyer and seller inventories coupled with the demand for products such as PCs, laptops, and smartphones being influenced in the short-term by the Russian-Ukrainian war and high inflation weakening consumer purchasing power. At present, the only remaining source of demand is on the server-side, so overall DRAM stocks will remain oversupplied in 2Q22.
In terms of PC DRAM, PC OEMs are adopting a conservative stocking strategy for orders in 2Q22 due to the Russian-Ukrainian war, which may continue affecting orders during peak season in 2H22, and revising 2022 shipment targets downwards. Additionally, the overall supply of bits is still growing, so the PC DRAM price slump in 2Q22 will further expand to 3~8% and may continue to deteriorate.
In terms of server DRAM, the current server DRAM inventory level held by cloud service providers and enterprise clients is roughly the same as the amount held in 1Q22, and this relatively high inventory level is not enough to support a price reversal. The supply rate of server DRAM, of which there is still an oversupply, remains higher than 100% and this situation will continue into 2Q22. However, a price decline in 2Q22 is expected to converge at 0~5%, coinciding with the peak seasonal stocking surge.
In terms of Mobile DRAM, due to a number of factors such as high inflation, changes in the pandemic situation in various countries, and the Russian-Ukrainian war, it cannot be ruled out that the production volume of smartphones may continue to decline while smartphone brands will surely be more careful when planning production and material preparation. On the supply side, technology migration in manufacturing has offset the shift of DRAM production to the server DRAM field beginning in 2H21, maintaining the level of the mobile DRAM bit supply. For this reason, since the production targets of smartphone brands have fallen and the average memory capacity of a single device has not significantly improved, oversupply is forecast to continue in 2Q22, with pricing set to decline approximately 0~5%.
In terms of Graphics DRAM, the demand side has been affected by weak virtual currency prices in recent months which has gradually started to assuage demand for graphics cards. The supply side is facing supply constraints and a vendor shortage since Micron will withdraw from the GDDR6 8Gb supply in 2Q22. This will cause a temporary supply-demand imbalance for Graphics DRAM as the capacity allocation of Korean manufacturers fail to immediately fill the above-mentioned shortfall. Even if terminal demand slows down, considering GDDR6 8Gb remains mainstream in the current market, it will take time for manufacturers to convert specifications to 16Gb. Pricing is forecast to increase by 0~5% in 2Q22.
In terms of consumer DRAM, demand for DDR3 from specific products such as WiFi 6 and 5G base stations remains robust. The quantity of DRAM supplied to the market varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Samsung and SK Hynix have gradually reduced production of DDR3, while Taiwanese firm Nanya Tech has recently shifted production to DDR3, owing to DDR3’s higher gross profit margin. Due to relatively stable demand and limited shipments from Korean manufacturers, the price of DDR3 will increase by 3~8% in 2Q22 with DDR4 maintaining a downward price trend.
A powerful magnitude 7.3 earthquake occurred off the coast of Fukushima, Japan on the evening of March 16th (CST). Most of northeastern Japan is a production center for global upstream semiconductor raw materials. According to TrendForce investigations, in the main quake zone, only Kioxia’s K1 Fab (located in Kitakami) will face the possibility of a further downgrade to 1Q22 production. Some of the remaining memory or semiconductor companies in the region are conducting machine inspections but the overall impact has been muted.
In terms of memory, the intensity of the earthquake at Kioxia’s K1 Fab reached magnitude 5. When the earthquake occurred, wafer input was partially damaged. At present, K1 Fab has been shut down for inspection. The 1Q22 production capacity of the K1 Fab had been downgraded following the recent contamination incident and accounts for approximately 8% of Kioxia’s 2022 production capacity. Operating under a cloud of possible aftershocks, Kioxia’s capacity utilization rate may be slow to recover in the next week, causing further downward revision of K1 Fab’s 1Q22 production. The remaining Kioxia factories are unaffected, as is Micron’s Hiroshima plant.
Looking at the market spot price, pricing has moved up since February due to the contamination of Kioxia’s raw materials. The Russian-Ukrainian war did not trigger significant upward or downward movements in spot price. After last night’s Fukushima earthquake, pricing remains stable. TrendForce asserts, overall spot demand remains weak and prices are not prone to drastic changes.
In terms of raw wafers, SUMCO’s Yonezawa Plant in Yamagata and Shin-Etsu’s Shirakawa Plant in Fukushima are both within the affected area, experiencing an earthquake intensity of magnitude 5. Due to the extremely high stability required in the crystal growth process, the industry has not yet announced the impact of the quake. TrendForce specifies, in addition to shutdown inspections, damage to machines and silicon wafer input is inevitable. However, in addition to redistributing production plans, buildings were reinforced after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan, so overall damage may be minor.
In terms of foundries, there are two 12-inch wafer fabs and two 8-inch wafer fabs in Japan, including UMC Fab12M (12-inch), Tower Uozu (12-inch), Tonami (8-inch), Arai (8 inches), located in Mie, Toyama, and Niigata prefectures, respectively, and separately experiencing quake magnitudes from 1 to 3. At present, these fabs are operating normally and any impact of the quake on the plants are largely insignificant. However, IDM manufacturer Renesas’ Naka plant is within the magnitude 5 zone and they have also shut down and reduced production to confirm the impact of the quake.
Intel and AMD will be releasing new CPUs that support DDR5 DRAM solutions for PCs and servers this year. In response, the DRAM industry led by South Korean suppliers is developing solutions to complement the arrival of the new CPUs. In the midst of the gradual shift to DDR5, DRAM suppliers will also scale back the supply of DDR3 solutions, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. With Korean suppliers accelerating their withdrawal from DDR3 production, Taiwanese suppliers yet to kick off mass production using newly installed capacities, and Chinese suppliers falling short of their expected yield rate, the global supply of DDR3 solutions will undergo an impending decline. With respect to the demand side, however, not only has the supply of networking chips been ramping up, but material shortage issues are also gradually easing. As such, buyers are now procuring DDR3 solutions ahead of time, resulting in a tight supply and demand situation in the DDR3 market. TrendForce therefore expects DDR3 DRAM prices to recover from a bearish first quarter and undergo a 0-5% QoQ increase in 2Q22.
On the supply side, Samsung and SK hynix have begun scaling back their DDR3 production while also planning to declare EOL (end of life) for their DDR3 offerings, such as 1/2Gb and 4Gb chips. It should be noted, however, that Micron’s DDR3 solutions will not reach EOL even by 2026, meaning the company will still offer DDR3 solutions long after its two Korean competitors have stopped doing so, according to TrendForce’s understanding. Also worth noting is that Micron is migrating its DDR3 production to a US-based fab that mainly manufactures specialty DRAM solutions. Nevertheless, since this fab’s production capacity will be divided between products for consumer and automotive applications, TrendForce believes that the aforementioned migration will tighten Micron’s supply of consumer DRAM solutions because the US fab will give priority to automotive DRAM solutions that offer a higher gross margin and are currently enjoying surging demand.
Although Taiwan-based DRAM suppliers that focus on promoting DDR3 solutions, namely, Nanya Tech and Winbond, are in the process of capacity expansion, their new production lines will not be operational until 2023-2024. Hence, the contribution from the newly added capacities is not expected to drive up DDR3 supply substantially this year. Chinese suppliers, including CXMT and GigaDevice, are continuing to collaborate in DDR3 development, though their capacity increases and yield rate improvements have both fallen short of market expectations. After being added to the Entity List, JHICC, yet another China-based DRAM supplier, is now dealing with severe restrictions with respect to procuring equipment, making it difficult for JHICC to raise its wafer input. Furthermore, the company has no spare resources that can be allocated to R&D and pilot runs. As a result, JHICC still primarily manufactures DDR4 4Gb chips at its initial 25nm node, with no DDR3 production at the moment.
With regards to demand, DDR3 consumer DRAM is primarily used in end-devices such as STBs and networking products (e.g., GPON, routers, and modems), which do not require high-performance SoCs. While the foundry industry suffered a severe shortage of wafer capacities allocated to logic ICs in 4Q21, production capacities for relatively low-margin chips were noticeably impacted in turn. Along with a preexisting component mismatch situation, most manufacturers found themselves unable to assemble end-devices. Moving into early 2022, however, the supply of certain materials, including those used in foundry operations, saw a gradual improvement. As various components needed for device manufacturing became available after Lunar New Year, certain buyers have once again kicked off their consumer DRAM procurement activities.
In addition, DRAM spot prices shifted from a prior decline to a strong upturn at the end of last year as the Chinese government ordered a month-long lockdown in Xi’an. The ensuing price hike, which has lasted for two months, subsequently led buyers to procure even more DRAM ahead of time in anticipation of further price hikes. Hence, although the demand for end-products has yet to make a full recovery, buyers are now slowly and steadily procuring consumer DRAM in order to avoid either higher upcoming prices or even an inability to secure consumer DRAM inventory.
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.
Driven by forces such as the pandemic, geopolitics, and the digital transformation of everyday life, there has been a shortage of global foundry production capacity for nearly two years and shortages have been especially severe for mature 1Xnm~180nm nodes, according to TrendForce’s investigations. Although all foundries are furiously increasing capital expenditures to expand capacity, unrealized future expansion does not ease existing supply issues. In addition, the uneven distribution of supply chain resources that has exacerbated the shortage of parts and components has yet to be definitively alleviated. Circumstances as a whole will continue affecting shipments of related whole devices. Only the PC category is expected to emerge largely unscathed in 1Q22.
Moving into 1Q22, TrendForce states, due to the limited increase in production capacity, the market’s supply situation is expected to be approximately the same as in 4Q21. However, some end products have entered their traditional off-season cycle and the slowdown in demand momentum is expected to alleviate the immediate pressure on OEMs and ODMs regarding supply chain stocking.
In terms of the whole servers, the FPGA delivery cycle is currently at over 50 weeks at most, while the delivery cycle of Lan chips has improved significantly, from the original 50+ weeks to approximately 40 weeks. However, escalating purchase order activity caused by the uncertainty of the pandemic combined with an accumulated backlog of demand (Back order/backlog) have pushed the SMT capacity of ODMs to full load in general. The aforementioned phenomenon have not only accelerated the consumption of ICs such as FPGA and PMIC, but the demand for additional purchase orders of FPGA, PMIC and MOSFET is still compelling. The overall market remains tight and the production of server motherboards in the future may face hidden issues. TrendForce has ascertained a more crucial matter. Taking the L6 server as an example, its production scale in 1Q22 will be roughly the same as the previous quarter. However, whole server shipments will show a seasonal decline with a decrease of approximately 8% QoQ.
In terms of mobile phones, material shortages have gradually eased from the second half of 2021 partly due to the discretionary adjustment of mobile phone specifications. Mobile phone brands can adjust their specifications and configurations based on available materials. Currently, the supply of four components remains relatively tight. Among them, 4G SoC (30-40 weeks) and OLED DDIC/Touch IC (20-22 weeks) have a significant impact on the market. The former will affect brands that focus on selling 4G mobile phones. The latter is affected by oligopolistic market structure and the adjustment of foundry capacity. Thus, there are rumblings of insufficient supply. Though the supply of the remaining two items, PMIC and A+G Sensor, remains tight, material shortage risk can be largely mitigated through alternative material replacements or the adjustment of specifications and configurations. In terms of production, the 1Q22 supply chain will essentially carry on its performance from the previous quarter. However, due to disappointing holiday demand at the end of 2021, mobile phone brands must adjust the distributed inventory level of finished products in a timely manner. Combined with uncertainty caused by disruptions stemming from a winter-time pandemic, 1Q22 production performance is estimated to fall by approximately 13% QoQ.
In terms of PCs and laptops, starting from November 2021, material shortages have been partially alleviated. Therefore, the shipment volume of PC ODMs in 4Q21 has been revised upwards. Compared with mobile phones and whole servers, the impact of under/oversupply of materials on end PCs and notebooks is relatively minor. Except for the SSD PCIe 3.0 controller, current tightness exhibited in component supply is due to delays in the transition of Intel’s new platform. This temporary shortfall has led to a delivery cycle of approximately 8-12 weeks while any tightness in the supply of Type C IC, WiFi, and PMIC is gradually abating. TrendForce expects that, as overall supply chain stability recuperates, notebook shipments from ODM brands in 1Q22 will only decrease by 5.1% QoQ. However, if the component shortage factor is discounted, subsequent sales originating from various distribution channels will be another major variable TrendForce must consider.
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