DRAM Spot Market:
SpecTek, a subsidiary of Micron, has slightly increased the prices of its products in the spot market. Additionally, sellers have indicated that they will not slash prices further for low-priced chips. As a result, the momentum of trading activities has stagnated. Like buyers in the contract market, buyers in the spot market are adopting a wait-and-see approach. Facing significant losses, DRAM suppliers need to enlarge the scale of their production cuts in order to stabilize prices. DDR4 products are also experiencing a serious inventory glut, and their prices could keep going down due to the weak overall demand. Conversely, DDR5 products are experiencing a tighter supply due to the PMIC incompatibility issue, thereby leading to an increase in their prices. The average spot price of mainstream chips (i.e., DDR4 1Gx8 2666MT/s) fell by 0.06% from US$3.235 the previous week to US$3.233 this week.
NAND Flash Spot Market:
Inquiries for some packaged dies were once prosperous with market anticipation gradually turning to focusing on the rebound of prices under suppliers’ production cuts, however, the level of demand is seen primarily from short-term and urgent orders at an insignificant expansion of transactions, where overall prices are still dropping at a decelerated pace. 512Gb TLC wafer has dropped by 0.76% in spot prices this week, arriving at US$1.436.
The SiC market has been very active lately, with constant news coming from device suppliers and car makers. And there seems to be an ongoing tug-of-war between supply and demand.
Toshiba announced in April the groundbreaking of its power semiconductor fab for SiC in Ishikawa Prefecture, with the first stage beginning in the 2024 fiscal year. This news echoes earlier reports from Japanese media that Toshiba is strengthening the vertical integration throughout SiC equipment, wafers, and devices, and planning to increase the production by three times in 2024 and 10 times by 2026.
Meanwhile, over the past two years, leading companies in the Europe and the US such as Infineon and ST have also accelerated M&A as well as internal expansion for SiC production devices at an unprecedented pace, aiming to expand their SiC-related businesses and maintain their core competitiveness in the market.
Despite aggressive demand-driven expansion plans, the unexpected announcement from Tesla in mid-March that it plans to reduce overall SiC usage by 75% in the next generation of electric vehicle platforms has sparked various speculations in the industry. This move was made without compromising the performance and efficiency of the cars and represents one of the few specific details that Tesla has revealed about its new car plans.
Now here is the question – will the popularity of SiC be a genuine trend, or merely a passing fad that could lead to a potential bubble in the market?
SiC or Si-based solutions?
Compared to IGBT and MOSFET, the dominant technologies in power semiconductor, SiC offers stronger advantages such as low resistance, high temperature and high voltage tolerance that can overcome the technical bottlenecks of EVs by improving battery efficiency and solving component heat dissipation issues. SiC can also make chip design sizes smaller, which means more flexibility in vehicle design.
These advantages have made SiC the most sought-after technology. According to TrendForce, the SiC power device market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 35% to reach $5.33 billion annually from 2022 to 2026, driven by mainstream applications such as electric vehicles and renewable energy.
There is a long-standing debate among the industry about whether SiC will replace IGBTs entirely. What we believe is that SiC may not completely replace IGBTs considering their distinct targeted use scenarios.
However, SiC transistors are expensive due to complex production processes, slow crystal growth, and difficult cutting. Unlike silicon, which can be pulled quickly, SiC crystals grow at a slow rate of 0.2-1mm/hour and are prone to cracking during the cutting process due to their high hardness and brittleness, leading to hundreds of hours of cutting time.
Additionally, SiC transistors also have some drawbacks such as vulnerability to damage and temperature sensitivity, which makes them unsuitable for low-cost and low-power applications.
IGBT, on the contrary, is preferred over SiC in such a field because it is more cost-effective, reliable, and has better capacitance and surge capability for high-power and high-current applications. In certain scenarios, such as DC-DC charging piles, IGBT is irreplaceable due to its cost advantage and suitability.
Could a Hybrid Solution be the Answer?
The premise above can help to explain Tesla’s conflicting decision to cut back on SiC usage.
Tesla’s reluctance to fully adopt SiC technology is mainly due to concerns about reliability and supply chain stability, as evidenced by a mass recall of Model 3 due to issues with SiC components in the rear electric motor inverter.
In addition, the shortage of substrate materials is another challenge facing the SiC industry as a whole, with major manufacturers such as Wolfspeed, Infineon, and ST ramping up production capacity to address the issue. As a result, Tesla is considering alternative ways to mitigate the risks associated with supply chain constraints.
Despite these challenges, SiC remains a promising trend for the EV industry. Even Tesla recognizes its enormous potential commercial value.
In terms of technological innovations, Tesla’s next-generation EVs may feature a novel packaging design for the primary inverter, utilizing a hybrid SiC/Si IGBT packaging approach that leverages the unique strengths of both technologies while avoiding potential pitfalls. This technological advancement poses certain difficulties, but the groundbreaking innovation at the engineering design level is definitely something to look forward to.
(Photo credit: Tesla)
Industry trend & Price trend
IT panel industry is expected to see a peak season in the second half of the year. Indicators such as channel inventory and brand inventory have improved from the slump last year, and a rebound in demand can be expected in the second half of the year. However, commercial IT panels are being purchased quite cautiously due to high inflation and economic uncertainties, while consumer IT panels can be expected to perform better.
In the display sector, there has been an observed increase in prices for gaming monitors, but it is unlikely to see a large-scale replenishment like in the TV market due to sufficient supply of IT panels and increasing production capacity in China. There is limited room for a significant price increase, but consumer displays may experience a small rebound, unlike commercial displays.
As for TVs, it is expected that the cost of production will surpass cash cost in May and June, leading panel manufacturers to increase their production rates. The extent of this increase will be crucial, as it could potentially drive panel prices higher or stall the price increase altogether. Production increase poses a significant uncertainty for supply and price hikes, with the third quarter remaining a key period that will depend on demand. If China returns to cash levels, higher production rates could be a potential risk.
According to TrendForce, global panel manufacturers had a production capacity utilization rate of around 67%-68% in the first quarter, which is expected to increase to 73%-74% in the second quarter. The third quarter is conservatively estimated to reach utilization rate of nearly 80%.
China Dominates the LCD Market
As Samsung and LG Display gradually withdraw from the LCD market, Chinese panel manufacturers continue to expand their market share. This year, the global shipment volume for TV panels is expected to reach 70% market share.
Amid a prolonged market downturn and persistent weakness in end demand, the world’s top three memory chipmakers – Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron – have implemented production cuts in an effort to control the continuing decline in memory prices through supply management. Recently, news emerged in the memory channel market that Micron had notified its customers that starting in May, it will not accept inquiries for DRAM and NAND Flash below current market prices.
According to TrendForce, the situation is not widespread at the moment, but is limited to low-priced memory chips. As for other product categories with high inventory levels, they still cannot avoid the situation of falling prices.
Although DRAM suppliers have actively reduced production, the output bit volume has not yet reached an effective convergence in 2Q23, so the quarterly contract price decline will be greater than originally expected, with an expected drop of more than 15%. TrendForce has observed that there is a strong wait-and-see atmosphere on the OEM side. While the willingness to purchase DRAM has increased, the premise of the deal is that low-priced quotes are attractive enough to OEMs. Due to poor demand prospects, the purchasing behavior of buyers still appears to be passive.
TrendForce pointed out that Micron’s subsidiary brand, Spectek, has slightly raised prices for its products this week, especially in the low-priced chip segment, indicating a reluctance to further reduce prices. Therefore, trading in the spot market appears stagnant, similar to the strong wait-and-see attitude mentioned in the contract market.
As suppliers have already entered a stage of significant losses, it is necessary to continue to expand production cuts to avoid prices from collapsing again. Among them, DDR4 still has a price decline due to high inventory levels and weak demand, while the supply of DDR5 is limited by the PMIC compatibility issue, resulting in an upward trend in spot prices.
Polysilicon prices had enlarged in reduction this week, where mono-Si compound feedings and mono-Si dense materials were concluded at a respective mainstream price of RMB 178/kg and RMB 175/kg under an average drop of roughly 7.8%. The drop of polysilicon prices had somewhat widened this week alongside the continuous release and ramp-up of polysilicon capacity, as well as the depleted procurement from crystal pulling plants.
Low-quality polysilicon continues to diverge in prices from mainstream products, and has been seeing a low level of purchases, while most businesses that are procuring frequently at small batches amidst the continuous reduction of polysilicon prices had contributed to the finalization of several new orders this week. Some businesses have started negotiating for their May orders, and prices are expected to continue fall with the arrival of the new round of order signing. An observation on the production and operation of the polysilicon segment this week indicates that two businesses are currently under overhaul. Polysilicon supply should continue to climb as businesses, including Daqo New Energy, GCL, Dongli, Runergy, and East Hope, release capacity and initiate production between May and June.
Wafer prices had slightly fluctuated this week, where M10 and G12 were concluded at a respective mainstream price of RMB 6.25/pc and RMB 8/pc. M10 mono-Si wafers had maintained a slow reduction due to insufficient demand, while G12 mono-Si wafers were largely stabilized in prices thanks to lingering support from demand.
The successive port arrival of imported quartz sand is able to fulfill full-load production among wafer businesses, though downstream cell businesses have not been aggressive in inventory pulls alongside the continuously rising level of wafer inventory, and are relatively resistant towards high-priced resources, which amplify the degree of wafer shipment on a continual basis, while second and third-tier businesses are also constantly lowering their prices in order to fight for orders.
Current mainstream concluded prices have fallen below that of prices previously announced by LONGi and Zhonghuan, and await the new round of prices that will soon be announced by leading businesses.
Cell prices were essentially stabilized this week, where M10 and G12 cells were concluded at a respective mainstream price of RMB 1.07/W and RMB 1.13/W. Supply and demand from upstream and downstream cell sectors have been relatively sturdy lately, with no significant changes to the level of overall inventory.
As demand for TOPCon cells increases, a segment of P-type production lines are currently being upgraded to N-type amidst continuous release and ramp-up of partial new capacity. The significantly risen supply of TOPCon cells could further widen the price difference between P-type and N-type cells. With upstream wafers dropping in prices and climbing in production, the cell segment has welcomed a recovery in profitability, though module makers are also amplifying in sentiment towards suppressing cell prices.
Module prices continued to maintain stability this week, where 182 and 210 mono-Si single-sided PERC modules were respectively concluded at RMB 1.67/W and RMB 1.68/W, while 182 and 210 bifacial double-glass mono-Si PERC modules sat on RMB 1.69/W and RMB 1.7/W respectively.
The continuous price drop from the upstream polysilicon and wafer segments has yet to be effectively transmitted to the module segment, and the end sector remains relatively anticipative towards dropping module prices, where some businesses of integrated production are generating orders by offering lower prices in order to bring up their shares in the domestic market. Integrated module makers are likely to carry on with their increase of demand during May, while the transmittance of price reduction from midstream and upstream sectors are also expected to further pull up end demand.
In terms of auxiliary materials, glass prices were seen with robustness this week, where 3.2mm and 2.0mm were respectively priced at RMB 26/㎡ and roughly RMB 18.5/㎡. As the new round of centralized order signing arrives soon, some module makers have been comparatively cautious on procurement by adequately digesting their previously accumulated inventory, and had thus led to a marginal drop of glass shipment this week compared to that of last week.