Shipments of CPUs, GPUs, and chipsets have been falling due to the weakening demand for PCs, gaming devices, and cryptocurrency mining machines. This recent development has also constrained the growth of the market for ABF substrates. Currently, the demand situation for this material is exhibiting signs of uncertainty.
Regarding the distribution of the demand for ABF substrates, applications that are driving growth are cloud services, AI, and automotive electronics. CPUs, GPUs, FPGAs, and switch ICs are chips that are deployed in servers purposed for a wide range of applications related to cloud services and endpoint AI technologies. Meanwhile, other AI-related applications require high-end ASICs. At the same time, more and more high-end SoCs and MCUs are embedded in vehicles. All in all, these aforementioned applications will spur the demand for ABF substrates. Additionally, package size continues to increase for high-performance ICs. This trend, too, will sustain the demand for ABF substrates over the long haul. By contrast, the PC market has matured, so the related demand is shrinking. From a long-term perspective, the influence of the PC market on the demand for ABF substrates will gradually wane.
TrendForce forecasts that the scale of the global market for ABF substrates will expand from US$9.3 billion in 2022 to US$17.1 billion in 2026, thus showing a CAGR of 16.4%. Due to the influence of the US technology export restrictions against China, the demand for ICs purposed for HPC will be higher than expected for the period from 4Q22 to 3Q23. This, in turn, will also further raise the demand for ABF substrates.
Then, starting from 4Q23, exports of HPC chips to China will start to slow down. However, demand will continue to grow for ASICs, AI chips, SoCs, and MCUs at that time. The growth in these application segments will offset some of the negative effect of the US export restrictions on the market for ABF substrates. In terms of the supply-demand dynamics of ABF substrates, a balance will gradually be attained in 2024. However, demand will get stronger in 2025 and 2026, so supply could tighten during that two-year period.
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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