According to TrendForce research, looking at NAND Flash wafers, the pricing of which more sensitively reflects the market, suppliers are increasingly motivated to cut prices in exchange for sales due to weak retail demand since March and a more conservative outlook for shipments of other end products. The price of NAND Flash wafers is expected to begin falling in May and the supply of NAND Flash will gradually overtake demand in 2H22. The price decline of NAND Flash wafers in 3Q22 may reach 5~10%.
At the same time, TrendForce indicates that February’s contamination incident at Kioxia was expected to tighten the market in 2Q22 and 3Q22. However, as a consequence of rising inflation and the war between Russia and Ukraine, market demand for consumer products in the traditional peak season of the second half of the year is trending conservative and the prices of client SSD, eMMC, and UFS in 3Q22 will be flat compared to 2Q22, breaking from the original expectation that prices may rise. In terms of enterprise SSDs, as demand for data centers remains strong, no significant correction in demand has yet been observed. However, as the overall NAND Flash market gradually moves into oversupply, prices will only grow slightly by approximately 0~5% in 3Q22.
Weakening demand in a period of unabated production expansion, NAND Flash may face oversupply in 2H22
From the perspective of demand, due to the war between Russia and Ukraine, rising inflation, and the pandemic in China, overall demand for consumer electronics is weak. Demand for Chromebooks dwindled rapidly at the beginning of 2022 as exogenous demand from the pandemic disappeared. In terms of conventional notebooks, the situation with commercial models and consumer models present a divergence. Demand for commercial notebooks is benefiting from a return to the office occurring in many countries, while the opposite is true for consumer notebooks. Therefore, overall demand for notebooks in 2022 will be lower compared to demand in 2021. In terms of smart phones, the production volume of Chinese brands has been suppressed due to China’s flailing against the pandemic and government lockdowns stemming from a continued insistence on a dynamic zero-COVID policy, resulting in continuous downward revisions of global smart phone production for 2022.
In terms of supply, Samsung is focusing on substantial future growth in the enterprise SSD sector and continues to maintain its original capacity expansion plan, especially after its NAND production line was derailed due to the Xi’an lockdown at the end of last year. In order to stabilize future plant operations, the capacity of its P2L fab in South Korea continues to increase. Yangtze Memory Technologies (YMTC) will also expand its wafer input plan in 2H22. Since the 128L yield rate has reached the company’s goal and it had successfully broken into the tier 1 smartphone supply chain in 1H22, YMTC will also accelerate production at its second factory in Wuhan. Therefore, TrendForce indicates, since an overall weakness in demand will linger in 2022 yet certain manufacturers will maintain a pattern of expanding production, the NAND Flash market will face oversupply in 2H22. As mentioned above, the prices of various products will be flat or experience reduced growth in 3Q22.
According to TrendForce research, demand continues to weaken due to modestly high inventories maintained by buyers and sellers, coupled with the recent impact of the Russian-Ukrainian war and rising inflation on PCs, laptops, and smartphones. However, overall NAND Flash supply has been significantly downgraded in the wake of raw material contamination at Kioxia and WDC in early February, becoming the key factor in a 5~10% NAND Flash price appreciation in 2Q22.
In terms of Client SSD, the Russian-Ukrainian war has compelled PC OEMs to adopt a conservative stocking strategy for orders in 2Q22, which may continue affecting orders during peak season in 2H22, and revising 2022 shipment targets downwards. This year, SSD output has officially stepped out from the shadow of the semiconductor shortage. As Kioxia’s production capacity gradually recovered to supply SSD products in May and production capacity continues to roughly meet customer demand, suppliers have adopted a more aggressive pricing strategy. Price growth in 2Q22 is forecast to moderate to 3~8% compared with original expectations.
In terms of Enterprise SSD, as procurement capacity and orders for servers and hyperscale data centers grow and lead times on Enterprise SSD products balloon due to material contamination at Kioxia and WDC, clients immediately turned to Samsung and Solidigm looking for supply. Since the supply of PCIe 4.0 products is limited, suppliers have adopted a tough price negotiation policy which will drive the price of enterprise SSD up by 5~10% in 2Q22.
In terms of eMMC, demand for consumer products such as TVs, Chromebooks, and tablets continue to weaken, limiting demand for low- and medium-capacity eMMC products to a marginal level. Although the primary supply of low-capacity 2D NAND output has yet to be affected by raw material contamination, the overall deal-making atmosphere of the market remains transformed by the contamination incident. In addition, the plan of suppliers to gradually reduce 2D production capacity has not changed. Therefore, suppliers are eager to maintain profits by increasing the price of relatively low capacity eMMC products. eMMC contract pricing in 2Q22 is forecast to rise by 3-8%.
In terms of UFS, the Russian-Ukrainian war, high inflation, and other factors have weakened demand for the most important UFS applications such as smart phones. Likewise affected by the contamination of raw materials, the total output of 3D NAND has been significantly reduced. For UFS products with larger capacity and higher layer counts, the downgrade in supply far outstrips movement on the demand side. UFS pricing in the 2Q22 is forecast to increase approximately 3~8%. In terms of NAND Flash wafers, although demand for products such as flash drives and memory cards is weak, these are low priority products in the supply chain. Since raw material contamination has seriously affected the supply of NAND Flash wafers. 3D NAND Prices are forecast to move upwards by 5%~10% in 2Q22.
In 4Q21, NAND Flash bit shipments grew by only 3.3% QoQ, a significant decrease from the nearly 10% in 3Q21, according to TrendForce’s investigations. ASP fell by nearly 5% and the overall industry posted revenue of US$18.5 billion, a QoQ decrease of 2.1%. This was primarily due to a decline in the purchase demand of various products and a market shift to oversupply causing a drop in contract prices. In 4Q21, with the exception of enterprise SSD, the supply of which was limited by insufficient upstream components, the prices of other NAND Flash products such as eMMC, UFS, and client SSD, all fell.
TrendForce’s summary of NAND Flash market sales performance in 2021 is as follows: although there have been signs of weakening since 2H21, thanks to remote services and cloud demand driven by the pandemic, revenue performance still grew significantly compared to 2020. Revenue reached US$68.6 billion, up 21.1% YoY, the second-biggest increase since 2018.
NAND Flash revenue fell for most manufactures in 4Q21 due to PC OEM destocking
There were some changes to the top three NAND Flash revenue rankings in 4Q21 compared 3Q21, Samsung and Kioxia remained in the top two while third place was replaced by Western Digital (WDC). Although there was still demand coming from data centers, as PC OEMs continued to deplete client SSD inventories and demand from China’s smartphone market weakened, stocking momentum was affected by component mismatch issues, resulting in a decline of approximately 5% in Samsung Electronics’ bit shipments in 4Q21. After the market shifted to oversupply, ASP also fell by approximately 5%, leading to Samsung Electronics posting 4Q21 revenue of US$6.110 billion, a QoQ decrease of 6.1%.
Second ranked Kioxia continued seeing strong demand from data center clients in 4Q21 but this was offset by inventory adjustment and reduced purchasing on the part of PC OEMs. Bit shipments declined slightly by 1% and ASP remained flat even in the face of weakening market demand, which was better performance than that of other suppliers in the same period. Revenue in 4Q21 reached US$3.543 billion, a QoQ decrease of 2.6%.
WDC was another company that benefited from continued strong stocking demand from major US smartphone clients for new 5G flagship phones which offset the impact of weak client and enterprise SSD sales, for bit shipment growth of 13%. However, as the proportion of consumer goods grew, ASP declined by 6%. WDC’s NAND Flash division posted 4Q21 revenue of US$2.62 billion, a QoQ increase of 5.2%.
Benefiting from continued stocking from data center clients and US-based smartphone brands, SK hynix’s bit shipment growth remained above 10%, in line with original forecasts. However, ASP was affected by weaker mobile phone shipments in China and inventory adjustment at PC OEMs. Pricing fell by nearly 10% which offset overall growth momentum. Revenue posted by SK hynix’s NAND Flash division in 4Q21 increased by 2.8% to US$2.615 billion.
Micron was similarly affected by inventory adjustments undertaken on the part of PC OEMs and data center clients. Although Micron’s 176-layer products continue to be adopted, shipments in 4Q21 were flat compared to 3Q21 and ASP fell approximately 5% as the growth rate of supply outpaced demand, leading to a decline of 4.7% in Micron’s 4Q21 NAND Flash revenue to US$1.878 billion.
Solidigm’s 4Q21 production capacity was still being affected by the impact of supply chains (such as PMIC supply) on enterprise SSD, resulting in a continued decline in bit shipments of nearly 5% in 4Q21. At the same time, while orders for laptops are still strong, Solidigm actively increased bits shipments of PC QLC SSDs in order to reduce production capacity, causing a drop in ASP and a 4Q21 NAND Flash revenue performance of only US$996 million, a 9.9% decline.
Looking forward to 1Q22, TrendForce states that with the advent of the demand off-season, demand for major applications will show a seasonal decline, exacerbating the phenomenon of oversupply and driving the contract price of products to fall further. Falling prices and shrinking volume is expected to further reduce the revenue level of the NAND Flash industry. Referencing information released by TrendForce on Feb. 10, it is worth noting that market expectant psychological factors in 2Q22 generated from the previous Kioxia and WDC raw material pollution incidents will change the supply and demand situation after February and certain products with additional orders and non-quarterly contract prices will immediately reflect a pricing increase. This will help reduce the decline in the output value of NAND Flash in 1Q22.
WDC recently stated that certain materials were contaminated in late January at NAND Flash production lines in Yokkaichi and Kitakami, Japan which are joint ventures with Kioxia, according to TrendForce’s investigations. Before this incident, TrendForce had forecast that the NAND Flash market will see a slight oversupply the entire year and average price from Q1 to Q2 will face downward pressure. However, the impact of WDC’s material contamination issue is significant and Samsung’s experience during the previous lockdown of Xi’an due to the pandemic has also retarded the magnitude of the NAND Flash price slump. Therefore, the Q1 price drop will diminish to 5~10%. In addition, according to TrendForce, the combined WDC/Kioxia NAND Flash market share in the 3Q21 was as high as 32.5%. The consequences of this latest incident may push the price of NAND Flash in Q2 to spike 5~10%.
The contaminated products in this incident are concentrated in 3D NAND (BICS) with an initial estimate of 6.5exabytes (approximately 6,500M GB) affected. According to TrendForce, damaged bits account for 13% of the group’s output in 1Q22 and approximately 3% of the total output for the year. The normal production schedule for the entire line has yet to be confirmed. It is worth noting that the damages announced by WDC likely do not account for total losses stemming for this event and the number of damaged Kioxia parts has not been aggregated, so the total number of affected bits may increase further.
Production primarily focused on Client SSD and eMMC, subsequent spot pricing may climb
Currently, WDC and Kioxia are focused on supplying PC client SSD and eMMC products. Since WDC is the number two and number one supplier in the client SSD and eMMC markets, respectively, subsequent supply will inevitably be hampered. Therefore, even if production demand for PC OEM is revised downward in Q2, client SSD prices may remain resistant to decline. In terms of enterprise SSD, Kioxia PCIe 4.0 has been verified by a number of customers and the company’s market share in 2022 was originally forecast to increase. However, this incident will impact Kioxia’s ability to ship product and further affect subsequent customer procurement. Therefore, in order for buyers to satisfy their own production requirements, a Q2 decline in enterprise SSD product pricing will be largely restrained.
In addition, as buyers and sellers in the spot market are still clarifying events and incident assessments, they mostly responded by suspending quotations, with no new quotations having been generated. However, TrendForce’s assessment indicates that subsequent events will obviously stimulate spot price appreciation. Judging from contract pricing, any orders negotiated on a whole quarter basis should be unaffected in the near-term but there may be an immediate price increase in wafer quotations this February and March.
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NAND Flash prices for 1Q22 are expected to decline by 8-13% QoQ, compared to TrendForce’s previous forecast of 10-15% QoQ, primarily due to PC OEMs’ increased orders for PCIe 3.0 products and the impact of the lockdown in Xi’an on PC OEMs’ price negotiation approaches. To mitigate potential risks in logistics, NAND Flash buyers are now more willing to accept a narrower decline in contract prices in order to obtain their products sooner. However, as the Xi’an lockdown has not noticeably affected the local fabs’ manufacturing operations, the movement of NAND Flash contract prices going forward will likely remain relatively unaffected by the lockdown.
In addition, TrendForce finds that the daily number of new COVID-19 cases in Xi’an has recently undergone a noticeable drop, and the local government has also announced that that the emergency level has been downgraded. As such, Samsung’s and Micron’s local production facilities are returning to normal with respect to workforce and operational capacity. Samsung’s local production base manufactures NAND Flash products, whereas Micron’s local production base is responsible for the testing and packaging of DRAM chips as well as the assembly of DRAM modules. The impacts of the lockdown mainly relate to delays in the deliveries of memory products to customers. On the other hand, the event has not caused a tangible loss in memory production.
Lockdown in Xi’an has not caused a notable rise in NAND Flash spot prices because most spot buyers already carry a high level of inventory
Regarding NAND Flash spot prices, suppliers temporarily suspended quote offering immediately after the event due to concerns about the fallout. As a result, the general decline in NAND Flash spot prices has more or less come to a halt. However, there has been no accompanying signs of spot buyers rushing to procure more products, and the overall transaction volume remains fairly low. TrendForce’s latest survey of the spot market finds that buyers still have plenty of stock on hand and are not in a hurry to procure NAND Flash products at the prices that are currently being offered.
Decline in client SSD and UFS prices for 1Q22 is expected to narrow
Regarding the contract prices of major NAND Flash products, their overall decline has been narrower than previously expected. For instance, despite the weakening demand for Chromebooks, notebook production on the whole has been improving as component gaps become gradually resolved, while demand for commercial notebooks also provides some upward momentum for the overall shipment of notebook computers. As a result, the QoQ decline in notebook shipment for 1Q22 has been narrower compared to prior first quarters. Furthermore, lower-than-expected shipment of Intel’s latest Alder Lake CPUs, which support PCIe 4.0 interface, has led certain PC OEMs to ramp up their orders for PCIe 3.0 SSDs in order to meet their PC shipment targets for 1Q22. However, SSD suppliers have already begun gradually transitioning their material preparation to PCIe 4.0 SSD instead, thereby creating a gap between the supply and demand of PCIe 3.0 SSDs. As well, the Xi’an lockdown has prompted client SSD buyers to scramble to lock in their required delivery volumes. Taken together, these factors have lessened the decline in client SSD prices for 1Q22 from the previous 5-10% QoQ to 3-8% QoQ.
Regarding smartphones, not only has demand remained relatively sluggish, but smartphone brands are also still holding a relatively high level of eMMC/UFS inventory, meaning these brands are not particularly willing to negotiate prices for high volumes of mobile NAND Flash storage at the moment. On the other hand, thanks to increased orders from PC OEMs since November 2021, NAND Flash suppliers’ inventory levels have fallen somewhat. Hence, the decline in mobile NAND Flash storage quotes has in turn narrowed slightly. Contract prices of UFS products are now expected to decrease by 5-10% QoQ in 1Q22 instead of 8-13% QoQ as previously expected. Finally, contract prices of server SSD and NAND Flash wafers are expected to decline by 3-8% QoQ and 10-15% QoQ, respectively, in 1Q22, in line with prior expectations.