Semiconductors


2022-02-17

Overall DRAM Output Decreased Nearly 6% QoQ in 4Q21 Due to Decline in Shipments and Pricing, Says TrendForce

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.

2022-02-16

Intel Kills Two Birds with One Stone as Tower Acquisition Strengthens Mature Process Platforms and Regional Production Capabilities, Says TrendForce

Intel officially confirmed on February 15 that it will acquire Israeli foundry Tower Semiconductor for nearly US$6 billion, and the deal will likely contribute to the growth of Intel’s foundry business if it reaches a successful conclusion, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Tower was 9th place in the global ranking of foundries by revenue for 4Q21 and operates a total of seven production sites across Israel, the US, and Japan. Tower’s foundry capacity in 12-inch wafer equivalents accounts for about 3% of the global total. The majority share of Tower’s foundry capacity is for 8-inch wafers, and Tower’s share of the global 8-inch wafer foundry capacity is around 6.2%. Regarding manufacturing process platforms, Tower offers nodes ranging from 0.8µm to 65nm. It has a diverse range of specialty process technologies for manufacturing products in relatively small quantities. Products that Tower has been contracted to manufacture are mostly RF-SOI components, PMICs, CMOS sensors, discretes, etc. As such, the Tower acquisition is expected to help Intel expand its presence in the smartphone, industrial equipment, and automotive electronics markets.

Although Intel undertook a series of business strategies to compete with TSMC and Samsung, IFS (Intel Foundry Services) has historically manufactured with platform technologies for processors such as CPUs and GPUs. Furthermore, competition still persists between Intel and certain foundry clients that require advanced processes below the 10nm node, such as AMD and Nvidia, which have long histories of developing server products, PC CPUs, GPUs, or other HPC-related chips. Intel’s preexisting competitive relationship with these companies may become a barrier to IFS’ future expansion because IFS will be relatively unlikely to attract them as customers.

Taking the aforementioned factors into account, TrendForce believes that the Tower acquisition will likely expand IFS’ business presence in the foundry industry through two considerations. First of all, the acquisition will help Intel both diversify its mature process technologies and expand its clientele. Thanks to advancements in communication technologies and an increase in demand for new energy vehicles, there has been a recent surge in demand for RF-SOI components and PMICs. Tower’s long-term focus on the diverse mature process technologies used to manufacture these products means it also possesses a long-term collaborative relationship with clients in such markets. By acquiring Tower, Intel is therefore able to address IFS’ limited foundry capabilities and limited clientele. The second consideration pertains to the indigenization of semiconductor manufacturing and supply allocations, which have become increasingly important issues in light of current geopolitical situations. As Tower operates fabs in Asia, EMEA, and North America, the acquisition is in line with Intel’s current strategic aim to reduce the disproportionate concentration of the foundry industry’s supply chain in Asia. As well, Intel holds long-term investments and operates fabs in both the US and Israel, so the Tower acquisition will give Intel more flexibility in allocating production capacities, thereby further mitigating risks of potential supply chain disruptions arising from geopolitical conflicts.

In addition to the aforementioned synergy derived from acquiring Tower, it should also be pointed out that Intel is set to welcome an upcoming partnership with Nuvoton. Tower’s three Japan-based fabs were previously operated under TowerJazz Panasonic Semiconductor, a joint venture created by Tower and Panasonic in 2014, with Tower and Panasonic each possessing 51% and 49% ownership, respectively. After Nuvoton acquired PSCS (Panasonic Semiconductor Solutions Co.) in 2020, Panasonic’s 49% ownership of the three fabs was subsequently transferred to Nuvoton. Following Intel’s Tower acquisition, Intel will now possess the 51% majority ownership of the fabs and jointly operate their production lines for industrial MCUs, automotive MCUs, and PMICs along with Nuvoton. Notably, these production lines also span the range of CIS, MCU, and MOSFET technologies previously developed by Panasonic.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Semiconductor Research, please click here, or email Ms. Latte Chung from the Sales Department at lattechung@trendforce.com

2022-02-15

[Russia-Ukraine] The Conflict Affects Semiconductor Gas Supply and May Cause Rise in Chip Production Costs, Says TrendForce

Ukraine is a major supplier of raw material gases for semiconductors including neon, argon, krypton, and xenon, according to TrendForce’s investigations. Ukraine supplies nearly 70% of the world’s neon gas capacity. Although the proportion of neon gas used in semiconductor processes is not as high as in other industries, it is still a necessary resource. If the supply of materials is cut off, there will be an impact on the industry. TrendForce believes that, although the Ukrainian-Russian conflict may affect the supply of inert gas regionally, semiconductor factories and gas suppliers are stocked and there are still supplies from other regions. Thus, gas production line interruptions in Ukraine will not halt semiconductor production lines in the short term. However, the reduction in gas supply will likely lead to higher prices which may increase the cost of wafer production.

Inert gases are primarily used in semiconductor lithography processes. When the circuit feature size is reduced to below 220nm, it begins to enter the territory of DUV (deep ultraviolet) light source excimer lasers. The wavelength of the DUV light generated by the energy beam advances circuit feature sizes to below 180nm. The inert gas mixture required in the DUV excimer laser contains neon gas. Neon gas is indispensable in this mixture and, thus, difficult to replace. The semiconductor lithography process that requires neon gas is primarily DUV exposure, and encompasses 8-inch wafer 180nm to 12-inch wafer 1Xnm nodes.

TrendForce research shows, in terms of foundries, global production capacity at the 180~1Xnm nodes accounts for approximately 75% of total capacity. Except for TSMC and Samsung, who provide advanced EUV processes, for most fabs, the proportion of revenue attributed to the 180~1Xnm nodes exceeds 90%. In addition, the manufacturing processes of components in extreme short supply since 2020, including PMIC, Wi-Fi, RFIC, and MCU all fall within the 180~1Xnm node range. In terms of DRAM, in addition to Micron, Korean manufacturers are gradually increasing the proportion of 1alpha nm nodes (using the EUV process) but more than 90% of production capacity still employs the DUV process.  In addition, all NAND Flash capacity utilizes DUV lithography technology.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Semiconductor Research, please click here, or email Ms. Latte Chung from the Sales Department at lattechung@trendforce.com

2022-02-10

NAND Flash Pricing Set to Spike 5-10% in Q2 Due to Material Contamination at WDC and Kioxia, Says TrendForce

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.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Semiconductor Research, please click here, or email Ms. Latte Chung from the Sales Department at lattechung@trendforce.com

2022-02-09

Undaunted by deadlocked US-Sino relations, China’s packaging and testing industry has emerged from the pandemic a champion

Undaunted by deadlocked US-Sino relations, the great pandemic of 2020, and the US Department of Commerce’s ban on Huawei’s use of software and equipment produced by US manufacturers in the same year, China’s packaging and testing industry has, instead, used these factors as stimulus get back on track. Faced with these three major challenges, the Chinese government has responded with policies such as domestically producing both equipment and semiconductors, allowing China’s packaging and testing industry to buck the trends set in 2020. According to TrendForce statistics, industry revenue in 2020 reached US$7.02 billion and approximately US$9.53 billion in 2021.

A brief summary of China’s packaging and testing industry in recent years is as follows: the US-Sino trade war has been raging since 2018 and, due to tariff issues and the gradual rise in personnel salaries, terminal manufacturers whom had already established plants or subsidiaries in China were forced to gradually relocate relevant factories to SE Asia and India in order to avoid growing overhead costs, moreover impacting the revenue performance of China’s packaging and testing industry. As of June 2019, the tariff issue remained unresolved due to dubious US.-Sino relations but this issue could no longer impede the revenue recovery momentum of China’s packaging and testing industry.

Packaging and testing and localized equipment skirts bans and a moderate threshold for technology research and development attracts overseas manufacturers

After the U.S. Department of Commerce imposed export control bans on Huawei, HiSilicon, and SMIC, the market mostly predicted that China’s packaging and testing industry would be hit next but this did not happen. According to TrendForce, the primary reason for this is that the nature of current back-end packaging and testing technology is relatively crude compared to front-end wafer manufacturing and, considering Chinese government’s recent policy of localizing equipment and the degree of substitutability of non-US equipment manufacturers, even if the U.S. Department of Commerce proposes further bans against the industry, its effects will be limited.

In response to the US-Sino trade conflict, the Chinese government has proposed relevant measures such as semiconductor autonomy which has driven a gradual mainstreaming of domestic equipment production plans. In addition, national funds have been continuously injected into semiconductor equipment manufacturers, even though the level of technological development at this stage remains inferior to major manufacturers in Europe, the United States, and Japan. However, for those with modest requirements for back-end process conditions, testing, and testing equipment, China’s domestic packaging and testing equipment does have a certain proportion and scale.

For example, relevant companies such as Hangzhou Changchuan and Shanghai Raintree have invested in the automatic optical inspection instruments (AOI) and testing equipment that are required in the latter stage of packaging and testing. On the other hand, due to the relatively low threshold for research and development of back-end packaging and testing equipment, many international companies such as Japan’s Advantest and Singapore’s Besi have also set up shops in China. Chinese packaging and testing and their equipment manufacturers are essentially unaffected by relevant export bans, so the industry can still anticipate technological and revenue performance in the next few years.

(Image credit: Pixabay)

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