The output value of the world’s top 10 foundries in 4Q21 reached US$29.55 billion, or 8.3% growth QoQ, according to TrendForce’s research. This is due to the interaction of two major factors. One is limited growth in overall production capacity. At present, the shortage of certain components for TVs and laptops has eased but there are other peripheral materials derived from mature process such as PMIC, Wi-Fi, and MCU that are still in short supply, precipitating continued fully loaded foundry capacity. Second is rising average selling price (ASP). In the fourth quarter, more expensive wafers were produced in succession led by TSMC and foundries continued to adjust their product mix to increase ASP. In terms of changes in this quarter’s top 10 ranking, Nexchip overtook incumbent DB Hitek to clinch 10th place.
TrendForce believes that the output value of the world’s top ten foundries will maintain a growth trend in 1Q22 but appreciation in ASP will still be the primary driver of said growth. However, since there are fewer first quarter working days in the Greater China Area due to the Lunar New Year holiday and this is the time when some foundries schedule an annual maintenance period, 1Q22 growth rate will be down slightly compared to 4Q21.
Top 5 foundries account for nearly 90% of global market share, Samsung recovers share with advanced processes
Looking at the top five industry players, TSMC’s 4Q21 revenue reached US$15.75 billion, a QoQ increase of 5.8%. Although 5nm revenue spiked thanks to the new iPhone, 7/6nm revenue dropped due to a weak Chinese smartphone market, becoming the only TSMC node in decline in 4Q21, and inducing a contraction in TSMC revenue growth in 4Q21, though TSMC still accounts for more than 50% of global market share. As one of TSMC’s few competitors in advanced processes below 7nm, Samsung strengthened 4Q21 revenue to US$5.54 billion, a quarterly increase of 15.3% owing to the gradual completion of new advanced 5/4nm process capacity and the mass production of new flagship products from major client Qualcomm. Although Samsung’s foundry business has posted record revenue, the slower ramp-up of advanced process capacity continues to erode overall profitability. Therefore, TrendForce believes that improving advanced process capacity and yield in 1Q22 is one of Samsung’s top priorities.
Constrained by limited growth in new production capacity and the fact that the new wave of wafers contracted at the latest pricing has yet to be produced, UMC’s revenue stalled slightly in 4Q21, to US$2.12 billion, up 5.8% QoQ. GlobalFoundries benefited from the release of new production capacity, product mix optimization, and new long-term agreement (LTA) pricing, pushing up ASP performance. Revenue in 4Q22 hit US$1.85 billion, up 8.6% QoQ. SMIC posted 4Q21 revenue of US$1.58 billion, 11.6% QoQ, due to mounting demand for products such as HV, MCU, Ultra Low Power Logic, and Specialty Memory as well as factors such as product mix adjustment and appreciating ASP.
Surpassing DB Hitek, Nexchip officially breaks into the top 10 in 4Q21
The foundries ranked 6th to 9th are HuaHong Group, PSMC, Vanguard International Semiconductor (VIS), and Tower Semiconductor (Tower), respectively. Each has benefiting from factors such as a utilization rate uniformly at full capacity, release of new production capacity, and adjustment of ASP and product mix, sustaining the growth of revenue performance. It is worth mentioning, the acquisition of Tower by Intel netted Intel mature process technologies and a customer base and expanded the diversity and production capacity of its foundry business. However, before this transaction is officially completed, Tower is still considered an independent entity in terms of the accounting process. TrendForce states, after Intel’s foundry business is properly integrated with Tower, Intel will officially enter the ranking of top ten foundries.
Coming in 10th on the top 10 foundry ranking is Nexchip with revenue of US$352 million and a quarterly growth rate of 44.2%, the fastest growth rate among the top ten, and officially surpassed DB Hitek. According to TrendForce investigations, the primary reason Nexchip was able to break into the top 10 in 4Q21 was the company’s diligent production expansion. Nexchip also plans to develop more advanced processes such as the 55/40/28nm nodes and multiple product lines including TDDI, CIS, and MCU, to compensate for its current single product line and limited customer base. Since Nexchip is currently ramping-up operations quickly, its growth performance in 2022 should not be underestimated.
Intel and AMD will be releasing new CPUs that support DDR5 DRAM solutions for PCs and servers this year. In response, the DRAM industry led by South Korean suppliers is developing solutions to complement the arrival of the new CPUs. In the midst of the gradual shift to DDR5, DRAM suppliers will also scale back the supply of DDR3 solutions, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. With Korean suppliers accelerating their withdrawal from DDR3 production, Taiwanese suppliers yet to kick off mass production using newly installed capacities, and Chinese suppliers falling short of their expected yield rate, the global supply of DDR3 solutions will undergo an impending decline. With respect to the demand side, however, not only has the supply of networking chips been ramping up, but material shortage issues are also gradually easing. As such, buyers are now procuring DDR3 solutions ahead of time, resulting in a tight supply and demand situation in the DDR3 market. TrendForce therefore expects DDR3 DRAM prices to recover from a bearish first quarter and undergo a 0-5% QoQ increase in 2Q22.
On the supply side, Samsung and SK hynix have begun scaling back their DDR3 production while also planning to declare EOL (end of life) for their DDR3 offerings, such as 1/2Gb and 4Gb chips. It should be noted, however, that Micron’s DDR3 solutions will not reach EOL even by 2026, meaning the company will still offer DDR3 solutions long after its two Korean competitors have stopped doing so, according to TrendForce’s understanding. Also worth noting is that Micron is migrating its DDR3 production to a US-based fab that mainly manufactures specialty DRAM solutions. Nevertheless, since this fab’s production capacity will be divided between products for consumer and automotive applications, TrendForce believes that the aforementioned migration will tighten Micron’s supply of consumer DRAM solutions because the US fab will give priority to automotive DRAM solutions that offer a higher gross margin and are currently enjoying surging demand.
Although Taiwan-based DRAM suppliers that focus on promoting DDR3 solutions, namely, Nanya Tech and Winbond, are in the process of capacity expansion, their new production lines will not be operational until 2023-2024. Hence, the contribution from the newly added capacities is not expected to drive up DDR3 supply substantially this year. Chinese suppliers, including CXMT and GigaDevice, are continuing to collaborate in DDR3 development, though their capacity increases and yield rate improvements have both fallen short of market expectations. After being added to the Entity List, JHICC, yet another China-based DRAM supplier, is now dealing with severe restrictions with respect to procuring equipment, making it difficult for JHICC to raise its wafer input. Furthermore, the company has no spare resources that can be allocated to R&D and pilot runs. As a result, JHICC still primarily manufactures DDR4 4Gb chips at its initial 25nm node, with no DDR3 production at the moment.
With regards to demand, DDR3 consumer DRAM is primarily used in end-devices such as STBs and networking products (e.g., GPON, routers, and modems), which do not require high-performance SoCs. While the foundry industry suffered a severe shortage of wafer capacities allocated to logic ICs in 4Q21, production capacities for relatively low-margin chips were noticeably impacted in turn. Along with a preexisting component mismatch situation, most manufacturers found themselves unable to assemble end-devices. Moving into early 2022, however, the supply of certain materials, including those used in foundry operations, saw a gradual improvement. As various components needed for device manufacturing became available after Lunar New Year, certain buyers have once again kicked off their consumer DRAM procurement activities.
In addition, DRAM spot prices shifted from a prior decline to a strong upturn at the end of last year as the Chinese government ordered a month-long lockdown in Xi’an. The ensuing price hike, which has lasted for two months, subsequently led buyers to procure even more DRAM ahead of time in anticipation of further price hikes. Hence, although the demand for end-products has yet to make a full recovery, buyers are now slowly and steadily procuring consumer DRAM in order to avoid either higher upcoming prices or even an inability to secure consumer DRAM inventory.
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.
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.
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Intel has long dominated the x86 architecture based server and PC processor market through the IDM model. At the same time, it acts as a pioneer in the semiconductor industry’s process miniaturization according to Moore’s Law. Yet, in recent years, Intel has seen continued delays in the development of 10nm and 7nm technologies. At the same time, in the ARM architecture based SoC processor market, customers can continuously and steadily obtain higher performance, lower power consumption, and more cost efficient IC design and manufacturing services through the continuous technological breakthroughs of TSMC at 10/7/5nm or even 3nm, integrated with the TSMC-led Open Innovation Platform (OIP), process and design-technology co-optimization (DTCO), and 3DFabric advanced packaging services. In addition to Apple leading the world in releasing the most advanced AP-SoC mobile processors, AMD’s PC processor market share on the client side is gradually threatening Intel. At the same time, the supply stability of the AMD Graphic and Data Center also trumps Intel and Nvidia. Furthermore, Apple’s self-developed M1/M1 pro/M1 max processors built with TSMC’s 5nm technology have been a reason for Intel’s lost Macbook series orders in the past two years which, in turn, has encouraged more brand-named manufacturers to initiate Fabless development strategies. Companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Alibaba have all put forward self-developed ARM architecture solutions.
In 2020, Intel continuously spoke publicly stating that the company’s long-term core development strategy is gradually shifting from the old CPU processor business to xPU data computing services and, after revealing plans to outsource a portion of their CPU business, discussed plans to partner with TSMC. According to TrendForce’s investigations, Intel’s earlier non-CPU products such as FPGA, ASIC, RFIC, PMIC and Wi-Fi have already been outsourced to TSMC, UMC or Samsung. As of today, Intel has officially released orders for CPU products to TSMC. Discounting cooperation in existing product lines, the division of labor between Fabless and Foundry combined with TSMC-led OIP, DTCO and 3D Fabric services will provide Intel with a multitude of choices. In addition to maintaining their original IDM model, Intel can maintain a high-margin self-developed production line and appropriate capital investment while flexibly using TSMC’s production line to create additional diversified value and maintain a competitive advantage against competitors such as AMD.