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.
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.
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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The shipment performance of TV brands in 1H21 benefited from COVID-19 economic relief funds in the U.S., driving a continuing boom in North American shipments, according to TrendForce’s investigations. At the same time, TV brands continued to replenish panel inventories, pushing up panel prices. As the pandemic slowed down in Europe and the United States in 2H21, life returned to normal and pandemic stimulus no longer applied, challenging demand levels. In addition, rising raw material and freight prices pushed up whole device cost, forcing TV brands to pass costs onto retail pricing. Even though TV brands staked their hopes on the two major annual yearend sales promotion events of Singles Day in China (the biggest shopping day of the year globally, online and IRL) and Black Friday, sales performance was poor due to high costs leading to a slump in end-user demand and eventually causing TV shipments to decline by 3.2% annually to 210 million units in 2021.
TrendForce further indicates that panel supply and overall production capacity will be ample in 2022, dispelling severe TV panel price fluctuations while ushering in steady and moderate fluctuations as a replacement. After a sharp revision in TV panel prices in the 2H21, this year’s panel pricing is more advantageous to the planning of TV brands. In addition, the severe impact of the pandemic in Southeast Asia and emerging markets and high panel prices last year caused TV brands to reduce the scale of small-sized 23.6-inch, 32-inch, and 43-inch products, forcing a deferral of demand. In 2022, the pricing of small-sized panels will be close to panel manufacturers’ cash cost which will help TV brands recapture a larger proportion of small-sized panel shipments. The proportion of shipments below 39-inch will remain at 25%, medium-sized 40~59-inch panels will remain at 55%, and large-sized panels above 60-inch will remain the focus of international brands with market share expected to rise to 20%. Benefiting from the deferral of small-sized panel demand, TV shipments in 2022 will grow by 3.4% to 217 million units.
OLED TV growth to slow down in 2022, annual growth rate to settle at 27%
In 2021, OLED TVs benefited from soaring LCD prices in the previous two years. This was also the case with 55-inch 4K O/C products. The price difference between the two has narrowed from a multiple of 4.7 in early 2020 to 1.8 in mid-2021, thereby incentivizing more TV brands to switch to producing OLED TVs when LCD panel supply is limited and driving OLED TV shipments to 6.7 million units in 2021, or 70% growth YoY. Although Samsung Electronics intends to join the white OLED camp and simultaneously launch QD OLED TVs this year, the continuing falling pricing of LCD panels and the price of OLED TV panels (subject to LG Display’s strategy of increasing pricing as opposed to dropping them) may disrupt Samsung Electronics’ rollout of OLED TVs. If Samsung Electronics fails to launch spring OLED TV models, its original shipment target of 1.5 million units will inevitably be affected. However, whether it launches OLED TV models in spring or summer, Samsung Electronics will take advantage of its brand and channel advantages irrespective of other considerations to take the OLED TV market by storm and aim for a market share of 15%.
Annual growth rate of Mini LED TVs doubled, shipments push towards 4.5 million units
TCL has opened up new horizons for TV products after releasing its first Mini LED TV in 2020. In 2021, Samsung Electronics launched a series of 50-85-inch mid/high-end 4K and flagship 55-85-inch 8K Mini LED models, with shipments exceeding one million units in the first year, reaching 1.5 million units, and boosting overall Mini LED TV shipments in 2021 to 2.1 million units. In addition to Samsung Electronics and TCL continuing to utilize Mini LED in 2022, more TV brands will also join the fray. Overall Mini LED TV shipments will race towards 4.5 million units. SONY showed its 8K 85-inch and 75-inch TVs for the first time at CES at the beginning of the year. Sony’s flagship 4K 85-inch, 75-inch, and 65-inch models were the most notable at CES and Sony will join Samsung and LG Electronics as another international brand marketing OLED and Mini LED TVs, intensifying competition in the high-end TV market.
NAND Flash prices for 1Q22 are expected to decline by 8-13% QoQ, compared to TrendForce’s previous forecast of 10-15% QoQ, primarily due to PC OEMs’ increased orders for PCIe 3.0 products and the impact of the lockdown in Xi’an on PC OEMs’ price negotiation approaches. To mitigate potential risks in logistics, NAND Flash buyers are now more willing to accept a narrower decline in contract prices in order to obtain their products sooner. However, as the Xi’an lockdown has not noticeably affected the local fabs’ manufacturing operations, the movement of NAND Flash contract prices going forward will likely remain relatively unaffected by the lockdown.
In addition, TrendForce finds that the daily number of new COVID-19 cases in Xi’an has recently undergone a noticeable drop, and the local government has also announced that that the emergency level has been downgraded. As such, Samsung’s and Micron’s local production facilities are returning to normal with respect to workforce and operational capacity. Samsung’s local production base manufactures NAND Flash products, whereas Micron’s local production base is responsible for the testing and packaging of DRAM chips as well as the assembly of DRAM modules. The impacts of the lockdown mainly relate to delays in the deliveries of memory products to customers. On the other hand, the event has not caused a tangible loss in memory production.
Lockdown in Xi’an has not caused a notable rise in NAND Flash spot prices because most spot buyers already carry a high level of inventory
Regarding NAND Flash spot prices, suppliers temporarily suspended quote offering immediately after the event due to concerns about the fallout. As a result, the general decline in NAND Flash spot prices has more or less come to a halt. However, there has been no accompanying signs of spot buyers rushing to procure more products, and the overall transaction volume remains fairly low. TrendForce’s latest survey of the spot market finds that buyers still have plenty of stock on hand and are not in a hurry to procure NAND Flash products at the prices that are currently being offered.
Decline in client SSD and UFS prices for 1Q22 is expected to narrow
Regarding the contract prices of major NAND Flash products, their overall decline has been narrower than previously expected. For instance, despite the weakening demand for Chromebooks, notebook production on the whole has been improving as component gaps become gradually resolved, while demand for commercial notebooks also provides some upward momentum for the overall shipment of notebook computers. As a result, the QoQ decline in notebook shipment for 1Q22 has been narrower compared to prior first quarters. Furthermore, lower-than-expected shipment of Intel’s latest Alder Lake CPUs, which support PCIe 4.0 interface, has led certain PC OEMs to ramp up their orders for PCIe 3.0 SSDs in order to meet their PC shipment targets for 1Q22. However, SSD suppliers have already begun gradually transitioning their material preparation to PCIe 4.0 SSD instead, thereby creating a gap between the supply and demand of PCIe 3.0 SSDs. As well, the Xi’an lockdown has prompted client SSD buyers to scramble to lock in their required delivery volumes. Taken together, these factors have lessened the decline in client SSD prices for 1Q22 from the previous 5-10% QoQ to 3-8% QoQ.
Regarding smartphones, not only has demand remained relatively sluggish, but smartphone brands are also still holding a relatively high level of eMMC/UFS inventory, meaning these brands are not particularly willing to negotiate prices for high volumes of mobile NAND Flash storage at the moment. On the other hand, thanks to increased orders from PC OEMs since November 2021, NAND Flash suppliers’ inventory levels have fallen somewhat. Hence, the decline in mobile NAND Flash storage quotes has in turn narrowed slightly. Contract prices of UFS products are now expected to decrease by 5-10% QoQ in 1Q22 instead of 8-13% QoQ as previously expected. Finally, contract prices of server SSD and NAND Flash wafers are expected to decline by 3-8% QoQ and 10-15% QoQ, respectively, in 1Q22, in line with prior expectations.