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2021-03-09

Prices of Client SSDs for Notebook Computers to Enter Early Uptrend in 2Q21 with 3-8% Increase QoQ, Says TrendForce

Demand for notebook computers is expected to remain strong throughout 2Q21 due to the persisting stay-at-home economy that arose in the wake of the pandemic, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. In response to the high demand for notebooks, PC OEMs are actively raising a consistent inventory of components, including client SSDs. Nonetheless, client SSDs are now in increasingly tight supply because the preexisting shortage of NAND Flash controllers is now exacerbated by the power outage at Samsung’s Austin-based semiconductor plant. SSD manufacturers are therefore preparing to raise the prices of SSDs. Accordingly, TrendForce has also revised up its forecast of client SSD prices for 2Q21 from “mostly flat” to a 3-8% increase QoQ instead.

As previously mentioned, Samsung’s semiconductor plant in Austin, Texas (here referred as Samsung Austin) was affected operationally by a severe winter storm that blanketed the entire state last month. As a result, production activities at the plant were mostly suspended from mid-February to March 2. TrendForce’s investigation of this incident finds that the plant is starting to recover operationally. Even so, the capacity utilization rate of the whole plant is not expected to return to the level of above 90% until the end of March, and this delay has had a palpable impact on Samsung’s chip production. With regards to product mix, there is no wafer input for NAND Flash at Samsung Austin. Nevertheless, 10% of its production capacity is used to manufacture in-house controller ICs for Samsung’s own branded SSDs. TrendForce’s investigation also finds that most controller ICs made at Samsung Austin are for client SSDs shipped to PC OEMs. In particular, among Samsung’s client SSD offerings, products based on 128L NAND Flash are expected to be directly affected by the incident.

It should be pointed out that, after kicking off mass production of 128L client SSDs in 4Q20, Samsung originally planned to take advantage of the release of Intel’s Tiger Lake CPUs to expand Samsung’s market share of PCIe G4 SSDs through aggressive pricing. After all, its competitors have been slow in ramping up production of PCIe G4 SSDs due to the negative impact of the pandemic and due to the longer-than-expected qualification process from PC OEMs. In light of the shortage of controller ICs, however, all SSD manufacturers are now forced to extend the lead times for their SSD orders, making it difficult for any manufacturer to increase their supply of SSDs and compelling them to in turn raise 2Q21 prices of client SSDs.

On the other hand, the power outage has had an impact on enterprise SSD prices as well, since enterprise SSDs and client SSDs are highly correlated in terms of prices. Furthermore, clients in the data center segment are expected to ramp up their procurement activities for enterprise SSDs in 2Q21 after the previous bearish period, meaning there will likely be successive QoQ increases in the volume of enterprise SSD orders going forward. Enterprise SSD prices are therefore expected to enter an impending upturn, and TrendForce has in turn revised up its forecast of enterprise SSD prices for 2Q21 from a 0-5% decrease QoQ to a 0-5% increase QoQ instead.

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

2021-03-09

Persistent Shortage Results in Near 7% MoM Increase in Average Contract Price of Specialty DDR3 4Gb Chips in February, Says TrendForce

As the three dominant DRAM suppliers (Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron) are currently experiencing a shortage in their production capacities, the corresponding shortage situation in the DRAM market has yet to be resolved, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Taking advantage of the fact that the whole DRAM market has entered a period of cyclical upturn in 1Q21, DRAM suppliers have significantly raised quotes for specialty DRAM products. This extraordinary development has led to price hikes that are almost double digits for some specialty DRAM chips. Furthermore, the magnitude of the price hike especially widens for products belonging to the lower part of the density range and the more niche applications. Looking at MoM changes in contract prices of specialty DRAM products for February, DDR2 and DDR3 chips saw the largest price hikes. Prices of DDR4 chips also went up due to the influence of the rising quotes for DDR3 chips. The average contract price of DDR3 4Gb chips, which are still mainstream for specialty applications, jumped 6.8% MoM.

As for DDR3 2Gb chips that are primarily promoted by Taiwan-based suppliers, TrendForce indicates that there is not enough supply even as quotes are being offered. With this situation becoming the norm, the price range (i.e., the difference between the high and low prices) has also expanded dramatically. The average contract price of DDR3 2Gb chips rose by nearly 9% MoM in February. Samsung significantly raised quotes for DDR4 4Gb chips in response to the sharp upswing in prices of DDR3 chips. The low and average prices of DDR4 4Gb chips for specialty applications both climbed around 6% MoM. The average price of DDR4 8Gb chips went up by around 4% MoM as the price trend of this product aligns with the general price trends of mainstream PC DRAM and server DRAM products. However, it should be pointed out that the hikes in contract prices of specialty DRAM chips were mainly the result of the adjustments made to monthly contract deals and thus reflected the market situation of February. By contrast, prices held steady for quarterly lock-in deals with tier-1 clients.

While the three dominant DRAM suppliers have been slowing down their DDR3 manufacturing, Taiwanese suppliers are constantly adjusting their capacity allocation to maximize profits

With demand getting hotter in the specialty DRAM market, DDR3 products are starting to surpass DDR4 products and logic ICs in profit margin. Consequently, DRAM suppliers are also changing their strategies. Looking at South Korean suppliers, Samsung will continue shifting the wafer production capacity of Line 13 to CMOS image sensors over the long term. However, this reassignment has now been scaled down for this year due to the recent surge in specialty DRAM prices. Likewise, SK Hynix will keep the DRAM production capacity of its older fab M10 relatively constant through 2021 after reducing it in 2020. As for Micron, it has raised the yield rates of the 1Z-nm and 1-alpha processes, so the output shares of products based on these more advanced technologies will gradually expand. Since the available fab space in Taiwan is limited, Micron will relocate the 20nm and more mature processes to Fab 6 in the US. In sum, the output of DDR3 products from the three dominant suppliers will continue to shrink, but the pace of the reduction is now slower than originally expected.

Regarding Taiwan-based suppliers, Nanya has shifted some 20nm and 30nm production capacity from DDR4 products back to DDR3 products. Winbond has been focusing on Flash products in the recent years, and its DRAM production capacity will remain fairly limited until the completion of its new fab in Kaohsiung. Nevertheless, Winbond is concentrating its DRAM production efforts on low-density DDR2 and DDR3 products (i.e., 1Gb and 2Gb chips). It actually has the advantage of being able to raise prices as its market share for low-density products is fairly large. As for PSMC, it has been focusing on foundry manufacturing of logic ICs for a while. However, with prices now rising for foundry manufacturing of DDR3 products, PSMC now wants to shift some wafer production capacity back to DRAM. Going forward, the three Taiwan-based suppliers will keep adjusting their capacity allocation strategies in accordance with changes in the profit margins of different products. Nevertheless, even as suppliers are now changing their product mixes to take advantage of the latest market situation, TrendForce projects that specialty DRAM products will be in undersupply at least through 1H21. The magnitudes of price hikes for various types of specialty DRAM products will depend on suppliers’ capacity allocation strategies.

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

2021-03-09

Unaffected by Seasonal Headwinds, Global Smartphone Production Declines by Mere 6% in 1Q21, as Total Yearly Production Likely to Reach 1.36 Billion Units, Says TrendForce

Owing to high sales of the iPhone 12 series as well as an aggressive device production strategy by Chinese smartphone brands in response to sanctions on Huawei, which has lost considerable market share as a result, global smartphone production for 1Q21 is likely to reach 342 million units, a YoY increase of 25% and a QoQ decline of just 6%, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Historically, smartphone production tends to experience a QoQ drop of around 20% for the first quarter as demand collapses from the peak-season level of the fourth quarter of the preceding year. However, the performance of the first quarter of this year is expected to defy seasonality.

Smartphone production for 4Q20 is estimated at 364 million units, while Apple ranked first in terms of production volume

Even though the share of high-end models in global smartphone sales shrank in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Apple was able to push through the headwinds and capture market share by introducing 5G models and adopting an aggressive pricing strategy. Apple produced 77.6 million units of iPhones in 4Q20, an 85% increase QoQ, thereby overtaking Samsung and ranking first amongst all smartphone brands. It should also be pointed out that iPhone 12 devices accounted for about 90% of the iPhone production in 4Q20. For 1Q21, sales of iPhone 12 devices remain strong, and total iPhone production is expected to reach 54 million units, with iPhone 12 models again accounting for about 80% of this figure. Looking further ahead, Apple plans to launch four new flagship iPhone devices in 2H21 and is likely to adhere to its aggressive pricing strategy. Regarding hardware advances, Apple will upgrade its mobile SoC to the A15 bionic SoC. Other than that, it will optimize various existing functions of the iPhone device. On the whole, the four upcoming flagship models can be regarded as extensions to the iPhone 12 series.

Samsung posted a QoQ decline of 14% in its smartphone production to 67 million units for 4Q20, thereby taking second place in the quarterly ranking. Its performance was affected by the competition from the new iPhone devices and the end of stock-up activities that were related to the year-end holiday season in North America and Europe. Moving to 1Q21, Samsung has released the new lineup of its flagship Galaxy S21 series in advance so as to maintain its market share in the high-end segment. At the same time, Samsung has adopted promotional pricing to boost the sales of its latest devices. Samsung’s quarterly smartphone production volume will likely reach around 62 million units for 1Q21. For the whole 2021, TrendForce expects Samsung to top the annual ranking of brands by production. Nevertheless, retaining the leadership position will be increasingly challenging for Samsung as it has been losing market share to several Chinese brands that have risen rapidly over these past few years. Regarding product strategy, Samsung will likely combine the Galaxy Fold series, equipped with foldable displays, with the Galaxy Note series, which offer large-sized displays, into the same flagship lineup. The main focus of Samsung’s sales efforts will still be on the Galaxy A series that encompasses models across the high-end, mid-range, and low-end segments of the price spectrum. To effectively compete against Chinese brands that boast better price-performance ratio for their devices, Samsung will maintain high specifications and a price advantage for Galaxy A devices.

OPPO (including OPPO, OnePlus, Realme), Xiaomi, and Vivo produced 50 million, 47 million, and 31.5 million units of smartphones respectively in 4Q20, which placed them at third, fourth, and sixth places. Looking ahead to 1Q21, the three aforementioned smartphone brands are expected to maintain an aggressive production target and actively expand in both the overseas and domestic markets. Nonetheless, potential growths in their actual production volume will be limited by the current shortage of production capacities across the foundry industry. In terms of product strategies, the three Chinese brands will remain aggressive in their R&D activities for high-end models as they seek to take over Huawei’s previous position in this segment. In particular, Xiaomi and OPPO have been seizing market shares with the highly cost-effective Redmi and Realme series, respectively. Notably, Xiaomi is expected to achieve a better performance in terms of market share for the whole year due to its earlier expansion in the overseas markets.

In response to heightened China-U.S. tensions, Huawei maintained a high inventory of components, which allowed it to effectively mitigate the impact of sanctions from the Department of Commerce. As such, Huawei recorded a quarterly production volume of 34.5 million units in 4Q20, a 21% decrease QoQ. This performance was sufficient to land Huawei in the fifth place in the production ranking for the quarter. Going forward, if suppliers of relevant smartphone components are unable to obtain approval to ship to Huawei by the end of 1Q21, then Huawei is expected to experience a noticeable cutoff of material supplies by the end of 2Q21. Furthermore, after being officially sold off by its parent company Huawei in early 2021, Honor is similarly facing the issue of foundry capacity shortage, which is projected to constrain the production volume of new Honor for the entirety of 2021.

2021 Ranking of smartphone brands by market share remains under scrutiny as LG suspends R&D of new products

LG has been considering either closing down or selling off its smartphone business since early 2021 while also suspending the R&D of new models. This has introduced additional uncertainties into the smartphone market following Huawei’s diminished presence. Although LG was relentless in innovating and developing high-end smartphones in the past, its sales performances lagged behind more competitive offerings from Samsung and Apple in the high-end segment. In the entry-level and mid-range segments, LG similarly fell short of Chinese brands, whose products enjoyed a pricing advantage. As a result, LG’s smartphone market share underwent gradual YoY declines since 2016, finally coming to ninth place in the global smartphone production ranking in 2020. Going forward, LG will concentrate its sales efforts in the Americas, while its market share is expected to fall to other brands, including Samsung, Xiaomi, and even certain telecom companies’ in-house brands.

For the rest of 2021, as the pandemic gradually slows down, the smartphone industry, which provides an essential daily necessity for the public, is likely to make a recovery as well. Given the industry’s cyclical replacement demand as well as demand from emerging regions, TrendForce projects the total smartphone production volume for 2021 to reach 1.36 billion units, a 9% increase YoY. It should be pointed out that the recent shortage in foundry capacities has led to a very limited supply of smartphone components, such as AP and TDDI. This means most smartphone brands have to make do with the materials they are able to obtain, even if such materials constitute a bottleneck in the manufacturing process. As a result, the boundaries between what would otherwise be off seasons and peak seasons will be relatively ambiguous this year, resulting in a smaller magnitude of QoQ growths.

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

2021-03-05

Progress in Importation of US Equipment Dispels Doubts on SMIC’s Capacity Expansion for Mature Nodes for Now, Says TrendForce

The major suppliers of WFE (wafer fab equipment) in the US are progressing smoothly in the application for license from the US government for the exportation of equipment systems, equipment parts, and customer services for 14nm and above processes to Chinese foundry SMIC. The US-based equipment suppliers that are applying for the license include Applied Materials, Lam Research, KLA-Tencor, and Axcelis. TrendForce believes that as some support from US-based equipment suppliers is forthcoming, SMIC should be able to continue its efforts in the optimization of the mature process modules and overcoming production bottlenecks to avoid a scission in raw materials and spare parts, and predicts the company to sit at a global market share of 4.2% in 2021. Keeping SMIC in operation will provide a bit of relief to the capacity crunch in the global foundry market, however, the tightening of the available production capacity will remain a challenge that is difficult to resolve for the foundry industry as a whole. Also, the US government continues to prohibit SMIC from obtaining the equipment of the advanced nodes that are 10nm and below, and the particular restriction poses a potential risk for the long-term development of the Chinese foundry.

SMIC Continues to Expand Domestic Demand and Localization under China’s Explicit Direction in Long-Term Development of Semiconductor

As the fifth largest IC foundry in the world, SMIC obtains over 70% of revenue from China and Asia-Pacific. In terms of process node perspectives, 0.18um, 55nm, and 40nm contribute to the majority of revenue that totaled to over 80% from being applied on service platforms such as logic, BCD, eFlash, sensor, RF, and HV, and the coordination with the IC projects listed in the 13th and 14th Five-Year Plan of China will continue to enhance on the assimilation of localized WFE (wafer fab equipment) and raw materials.

The sanctions imposed by the US Department of Commerce that have affected the long-term planning in production capacity and development strategies of SMIC are expected to result in a YoY declination of 25% in the capital expenditure of 2021 for the Chinese foundry. SMIC intends to allocate the majority of its capital expenditure to capacity expansion for the mature nodes and the construction of a new joint-venture fab in Beijing, and is conservative towards investing in advanced process technology such as FinFET. TrendForce believes that geopolitical factors and uncertainties in the WFE section of the supply chain have compelled SMIC to scale back its capital expenditure and shift its development focus to the 55/40nm and 0.18um nodes.

A breakdown of SMIC’s revenue by region shows that more than 50% comes from China, though whether major global clients are willing to continue placing their orders with SMIC under the consideration of foundry selection and long-term cooperation amidst the unabated status in the semiconductor competition between China and the US will be a focus of observation going forward. Pertaining to the return on investment for technology scaling and mature node, the development planning in advanced processes for SMIC no longer succumb to immediacy in demand under restricted client conditions and constraints from subcontractors. On the other hand, the resources for chiplet and specialty IC that exert better functions for the operation of the company are focused on the existing 14nm and above matured processes to enhance on PDK (process design kits) for clients that may create a business model with prolonged profitability, as well as preserve R&D staffs and future growth dynamics.

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

2021-03-04

DRAM Revenue for 4Q20 Undergoes Modest 1.1% Increase QoQ in Light of Continued Rising Shipment and Falling Prices, Says TrendForce

Global DRAM revenue reached US$17.65 billion, a 1.1% increase YoY, in 4Q20, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. For the most part, this growth took place because Chinese smartphone brands, including Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi, expanded their procurement activities for components in order to seize the market shares made available after Huawei was added to the Entity List by the U.S. Department of Commerce. These procurement activities in turn provided upward momentum for DRAM suppliers’ bit shipment. However, clients in the server segment were still in the middle of inventory adjustments during this period, thereby placing downward pressure on DRAM prices. As a result, revenues of most DRAM suppliers, except for Micron, remained somewhat unchanged in 4Q20 compared to 3Q20. Micron underwent a noticeable QoQ decline in 4Q20 (which Micron counts as its fiscal 1Q21), since Micron had fewer work weeks during this period compared to the previous quarter.

Demand for PC, mobile, graphics, and consumer DRAM remains stable throughout 1Q21. As for clients in the server segment, they have now reinitiated a new round of procurement for server DRAM after adjusting their inventories during the two previous quarters (3Q20 and 4Q20). These aforementioned factors, in addition to Micron’s power outage at the start of December last year, resulted in a price hike across all DRAM product categories in 1Q21. TrendForce expects DRAM bit supply to remain unchanged and prices to enter an upturn compared with 4Q20. However, as 1Q21 is the first quarter of the upturn in the DRAM market, and demand is yet to emerge out of the off-season, any growth in bit shipment and prices is expected to be modest, with only a slight QoQ increase in global DRAM revenue compared to 4Q20.

Suppliers’ profits were constrained by persistent declines in DRAM prices in 4Q20

With regards to revenue, the performances of Korean DRAM suppliers and that of Micron once again diverged from each other in 4Q20. This difference can mostly be attributed to the fact that, as previously mentioned, Micron had 13 work weeks in 4Q20 (which it refers to as its fiscal 1Q21) compared to the previous quarter, which contained 14 work weeks and therefore was a higher base for QoQ comparison. As such, Micron’s 4Q20 DRAM bit shipment and ASP both fell short of 3Q20 figures. Conversely, although Korean suppliers likewise experienced a QoQ decline in DRAM ASP, they were able to increase their bit shipment, indicating that their client demand was recovering during this period. Samsung and SK Hynix both increased their bit shipment by a wider margin than previously expected. This was enough to offset the downward pressure on revenue caused by the decline in the two companies’ DRAM quotes. In 4Q20, Samsung and SK Hynix each recorded a 3.1% and 5.6% QoQ increase in revenue, while Micron’s revenue declined by 7.2% due to the corresponding decline in its quarterly bit shipment. Micron’s market share also subsequently fell to 23% in 4Q20. Moving to 1Q21, however, Micron is likely to catch up to its Korean competitors in terms of market share, owing to Micron’s pricing strategies, which are the most aggressive among DRAM suppliers, as well as to a general upturn in DRAM quotes.

With regards to profits, all suppliers experienced a decline in 4Q20 as a result of the 5-10% QoQ decline in DRAM ASP. In particular, Samsung’s operating profit margin fell from 41% in 3Q20 to 36% in 4Q20, while SK Hynix likewise showed a decline from 29% in 3Q20 to 26% in 4Q20. For the September-November fiscal quarter (Micron’s own fiscal 1Q21), Micron posted a similar decline in DRAM ASP compared to that of its Korean competitors, as well as a decline in operating profit margin from 25% in 3Q20 to 21% in 4Q20. Taken as a whole, DRAM suppliers were unable to make up for the drop in DRAM quotes with cost-optimization measures. Looking ahead to 1Q21, on the other hand, TrendForce expects DRAM quotes to rebound from rock bottom, in turn generating some upward momentum for suppliers’ profitability to rebound from rock bottom as well. These events will officially mark the cyclical upturn in DRAM prices. It should also be pointed out that, for instance, leading supplier Samsung still retains at least a 30% profit margin even at the lowest level of quotes, while this figure is closer to 10% for Nanya Tech, which is comparatively smaller in scale as a company. These margins suggest that the DRAM industry will be able to maintain its profitability due to its oligopolistic nature, at least prior to the entrance of emergent suppliers from China.

With regards to Taiwanese suppliers, Nanya Tech also increased its bit shipment while its quotes fell compared to 3Q20, resulting in a slight QoQ decline of 0.7% in revenue in 4Q20. Along with falling quotes, Nanya Tech’s operating profit margins narrowed from 13.5% in 3Q20 to 8.8% in 4Q20. As for Winbond, NOR Flash products accounted for an increasing percentage of its total revenue, mostly at the expense of its NAND Flash business, in 4Q20. However, its DRAM revenue underwent a slight QoQ growth of 0.8% during this period due to an early upturn of the specialty DRAM market. This growth was relatively limited due to Winbond’s limited DRAM bit supply rather than low client demand. PSMC’s DRAM revenue includes only its in-house PC DRAM products. The company’s DRAM revenue declined by about 1.7% QoQ in 4Q20 because its production capacity for DRAM was crowded out by other logic ICs in relatively high demand, including PMICs (power management IC), driver ICs, and CIS.

TrendForce indicates that, going forward, the three Taiwanese suppliers are still placing a heavy emphasis on their strongest products while furthering their own respective competitive advantages in the industry. For instance, Nanya Tech has been actively developing its 1A/1Bnm process technologies, with the goal of submitting samples to its partners by the end of 2021. Winbond, on the other hand, is continuing to improve the yield rate of its new 25nm DRAM process technology and expand its production capacity to meet the high demand for NOR Flash memories. Finally, PSMC will continue to maintain fully loaded wafer capacity for logic ICs, which are products with relatively higher gross margins, given the high demand for such products at the moment.


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

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