semiconductor


2021-03-17

NAND Flash Contract Prices Projected to Increase by 3-8% QoQ in 2Q21 Due to Easing of Oversupply, Says TrendForce

With Samsung, YMTC, SK Hynix, and Intel leading the charge, NAND Flash suppliers will maintain an aggressive effort to expand their production capacities throughout 2Q21, during which NAND Flash bit output will likely increase by nearly 10% QoQ, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. On the other hand, orders from PC OEMs and Chinese smartphone brands since 1Q21, as well as recovering procurement activities from clients in the data center segment during 2Q21, will generate upward momentum propelling NAND Flash bit demand. Furthermore, buyers are actively stocking up on finished products, such as SSDs and eMMC, due to persistently limited NAND Flash controller supply. TrendForce therefore expects NAND Flash contract prices to increase by an average of 3-8% QoQ in 2Q21 after experiencing a 5-10% decline QoQ in 1Q21. In particular, as Samsung’s Line S2 fab in Austin has yet to resume full operation after the Texas winter storm, the supply of NAND Flash controllers going forward may be at risk, and Samsung’s ability to manufacture client SSDs will be further constrained as a result. In light of these factors, TrendForce is not ruling out the possibility that NAND Flash contract prices may increase by even more than current forecasts.

Contract prices of both client SSDs and enterprise SSDs are projected to rise due to delayed resumption at Samsung’s Line S2 fab

With regards to client SSDs, the persistent stay-at-home economy generated by the COVID-19 pandemic will likely result in strong demand for notebook computers in 2H21, while PC OEMs have raised their client SSD inventories as they manufacture more notebooks to meet demand. Given the high volumes of client SSD orders from PC OEMs, inventory level of NAND Flash suppliers is therefore likely to remain healthy. However, the shortage of NAND Flash controllers has yet to be resolved. Suspended operations at the Line S2 fab disrupted Samsung’s production of NAND Flash controllers, meaning some client SSD orders will not be fulfilled in 2Q21. Hence, the tight supply of finished products (i.e., client SSDs) will be further exacerbated. As such, client SSD contract prices are projected to increase by 3-8% in 2Q21.

With regards to enterprise SSDs, demand is expected to rebound from rock bottom in 2Q21, primarily because clients in the data center segment will ramp up their procurement activities after undergoing a period of inventory adjustment. In addition, demand for IT equipment from the governmental, healthcare, and financial services sectors will also gradually emerge. Other factors contributing to enterprise SSD demand include bids from Chinese telecom operators and increased IT equipment purchases from small and medium businesses globally. On the other hand, NAND Flash suppliers are no longer under pressure to destock via low prices, since their inventory levels have improved thanks to high demand from notebook manufacturers and smartphone brands. As the overall demand for NAND Flash rises, enterprise SSD contract prices are in turn expected to stabilize and experience a 0-5% growth QoQ in 2Q21.

High demand for Chromebooks will provide upward momentum for eMMC quotes, while contract prices of UFS are projected to undergo the lowest growths among NAND Flash products

eMMC contract prices will likely remain, for the most part, higher than expected despite the cyclical downturn in 1H21. In particular, strong demand from Chromebook manufacturers will provide upward momentum for eMMC quotes. Likewise, under the influence of NAND Flash controller shortage, eMMC buyers such as consumer electronics manufacturers will expand their procurement activities in order to build up their inventories. As a result, the overall eMMC demand will gradually ramp up in 2Q21. Conversely, the supply of eMMC controllers is still in shortage due to the fully loaded capacities across the foundry industry. Also, eMMC products under 32GB exclusively feature 2D NAND or 64L 3D NAND. Because production capacities allocated for these types of NAND Flash memories have been either reassigned to other 3D NAND products or scaled down, the oversupply of eMMC has been alleviated, and the long-term price drop of eMMC has subsequently come to a halt. In the short term, the shortage of controller ICs will result in a shortage of finished eMMC products. eMMC contract prices are therefore projected to increase by 3-8% QoQ in 2Q21.

Demand for UFS, which is primarily used for smartphones, is expected to remain high through 2Q21 because OPPO, Vivo, and Xiaomi have been aggressively procuring UFS since 4Q20, and Huawei spun off its Honor smartphone business unit. Buyers have also been anticipating an upcoming shortage of controller ICs and NAND Flash memory, leading them to build up their UFS inventories and therefore further driving up the overall UFS demand. On the supply side, inventory levels of suppliers have dropped significantly due to smartphone brands’ large-scale procurement activities previously. Although Chinese smartphone brands have yet to ramp up their bit demand, their existing level of demand still remains strong. Furthermore, clients from the data center segment are expected to increase their SSD procurement in 2Q21, and suppliers will maintain an aggressive approach regarding quotes in response. Even so, because smartphones account for the highest bit consumption share among all NAND Flash applications, NAND Flash suppliers are unlikely to significantly adjust their UFS quotes. As such, UFS contract prices are expected to increase by 0-5% QoQ in 2Q21, which is relatively lower compared to other NAND Flash products.

NAND Flash wafer contract prices are projected to increase by 5-10% QoQ as NAND Flash suppliers lower their bit shipment to the wafer market due to its lower profit margins

With regards to the NAND Flash wafer market, TrendForce has yet to observe an obvious improvement in the retail sales of end products such as SSDs, memory cards, and USB flash drives. However, as NAND Flash suppliers have been unable to make their scheduled delivery dates to OEMs due to an insufficient supply of controller ICs, module makers may stand to benefit from this and obtain more orders from OEMs, subsequently driving up the demand for NAND Flash wafers within the next one to two quarters, but the actual procurement of NAND Flash wafers will depend on whether the tight supply situation of controller ICs can be alleviated. On the other hand, inventories of NAND Flash suppliers have now fallen to mostly healthy levels thanks to procurement activities from smartphone brands since 4Q20. Suppliers have accordingly lowered their bit shipments to the NAND Flash wafer market (which yields a relatively lower profit margin compared to other product categories), due to the rising demand from notebook manufacturers and the expected recovery of the data center segment in 2Q21. On the whole, given the bullish market of mainstream products, such as smartphones and notebooks, TrendForce expects NAND Flash wafer contract prices to once again increase by 5-10% QoQ in 2Q21.

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

2021-03-16

PC DRAM Contract Prices Projected to Undergo Remarkable 13-18% Increase QoQ in 2Q21 Owing to High Demand from End Products and Data Centers, Says TrendForce

At the moment, the DRAM market has formally entered a new cycle of rising prices, and 2Q21 will see larger QoQ price increases compared with 1Q21, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Looking ahead to 2Q21, shipments of various end products are expected to remain fairly strong. At the same time, clients in the data center segment will resume large-scale procurement. Hence, DRAM buyers across different application segments will be under pressure to stockpile. After experiencing QoQ increases of 3-8% for 1Q21, the average contract prices of different kinds of DRAM products are forecasted to rise more significantly by 13-18% QoQ for 2Q21.

PC DRAM contract prices are projected to rise by 13-18% QoQ due to urgent demand from notebook manufacturers driven by bullish notebook market

Notebook computer production on the whole will maintain a fairly healthy momentum in 2Q21. The demand for PC DRAM products therefore continues to grow as PC OEMs have been raising their annual production targets. Since buyers of PC DRAM products are now carrying a relatively low level of inventory (i.e., around 4-5 weeks) and anticipating that DRAM prices will keep rising in the foreseeable future, they have been further ramping up their DRAM procurement activities. With regards to supply, the three dominant DRAM suppliers retain a conservative approach for raising bit output. The production capacity share of PC DRAM could experience a squeeze in the future because of robust demand in other application segments. For instance, some smartphone brands continue to vigorously stock up on memory components. Also, the demand for server DRAM products are expected to warm up rapidly in 2Q21. All in all, contract prices of PC DRAM products will register significant QoQ increases of 13-18% for 2Q21.

Server DRAM prices are projected to rise by nearly 20% QoQ due to cyclical upturn in server shipments

With regards to the demand for server DRAM, the second quarter is traditionally the peak season for server shipments while also being a fairly busy period within the year for the procurement of other kinds of DRAM products. Hence, the situation of different sources of demand competing for DRAM suppliers’ production capacity becomes more evident in this period. TrendForce expects server DRAM buyers to be more aggressive in inventory building during 2Q21 and begin to raise the procurement quantity on a monthly basis. This, in turn, will sustain the uptrend in server DRAM prices. With regards to supply, the server DRAM production capacities of the three dominant suppliers will still not return to the level that existed in the middle of 2020, although these suppliers will slightly increase the share of server DRAM in their overall DRAM production capacities in 2Q21. In addition to the peak-season effect, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to influence server manufacturers as well. Server manufacturers have intentionally extended their component inventories by several more weeks because of the pandemic-induced uncertainties. TrendForce is therefore not discounting the possibility of server DRAM contract prices registering a QoQ increase as large as around 20% for 2Q21.

Mobile DRAM contract prices are projected to remain bullish due to smartphone brands’ expanded procurement activities in advance of market risks

With regards to mobile DRAM demand, smartphone brands will not relax their inventory-building efforts in 2Q21 as the production capacity crunch in the foundry market has made them more vigilant in maintaining a stable component supply. The quarterly total smartphone production volume for 2Q21 is forecasted to exceed 300 million units. Although the three dominant DRAM suppliers have yet to adjust their product mixes for 2Q21, they will probably have to later on because the ASPs of server DRAM and other kinds of DRAM products are rising faster than the ASP of mobile DRAM. Hence, the production capacity share of mobile DRAM could be scaled back so that the production capacity share of server DRAM could grow. Additionally, the behavior of mobile DRAM buyers has been influenced by the cyclical upturn in prices and the anxiety over a tightening of supply in the future. They will continue to procure in large quantities so as to avoid the risks of a supply shortage and larger price hikes. This means that mobile DRAM prices will be on the uptrend as buyers stock up in advance.

Graphics DRAM contract prices are projected to rise by 10-15% QoQ due to high demand for graphics cards from cryptocurrency miners

With regards to demand, the three growth pillars of the graphics DRAM market are graphics cards, game consoles, and cryptocurrencies. At the same time, the mining of various cryptocurrencies has become a lucrative activity. Besides graphics cards that represent the more conventional mining technologies, miners are buying notebooks for this purpose as well. Sensing opportunities, Nvidia has launched CMP (cryptocurrency mining processor) cards and thereby taken up more of DRAM suppliers’ resources. This, in turn, has led to small- and medium-sized OEMs and ODMs experiencing a widening supply gap for graphics DRAM. With regards to supply, the three dominant DRAM suppliers have all reassigned their production capacity for graphics DRAM from GDDR5 to GDDR6, resulting in an increasingly lopsided discrepancy between the two products’ bit supplies, so there is no effective resolution to the ongoing shortage of GDDR5 products. As for GDDR6, demand remains strong as cryptocurrency mining is keeping the demand for graphics cards at a high level, although Nvidia is hogging much of the existing production capacity for graphics DRAM. Looking ahead to 2Q21, the supply situation will still be very strained unless the values of the mainstream cryptocurrencies undergo a drastic change. TrendForce forecasts that contract prices of graphics DRAM will rise by about 10-15% QoQ during this period.

Consumer DRAM contract prices are projected to rise by up to 20% QoQ due to intensifying shortage

With regards to consumer DRAM demand, the demand for TVs, set-top boxes, and networking devices remains strong due to the prevailing stay-at-home economy. Additionally, the build-out of 5G infrastructure and the rapid migration to Wi-Fi 6 contribute to the brisk demand for low-density consumer DRAM products. The supply gap in consumer DRAM market is already significant at this moment and will likely widen in 2Q21. With regards to supply, the overall production capacity for DDR3 products is gradually shrinking. The three dominant suppliers are migrating to the more advanced processes such as the 1Z-nm and 1-alpha nm while reassigning the wafer production capacity of the older processes such as the 20nm and 25nm to CMOS image sensors. Also, Taiwan-based suppliers have allocated some wafer production capacity to products with higher margins (e.g., logic ICs and Flash memory). As a result, the consumer DRAM market is in a rare situation of experiencing a supply shortage and a demand rebound at the same time. There is a strong likelihood that prices of some consumer DRAM chips will register a QoQ increase of almost 20% for 2Q21 contracts, and there is room for further hikes following quarterly contract negotiations.

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

2021-03-11

Strong Growth Expected for Third-Generation Semiconductors in 2021, with GaN Power Devices Undergoing Highest YoY Increase in Revenue at 90.6%, Says TrendForce

The third-generation semiconductor industry was impaired by the US-China trade war and the COVID-19 pandemic successively from 2018 to 2020, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. During this period, the semiconductor industry on the whole saw limited upward momentum, in turn leading to muted growth for the 3rd gen semiconductor segment as well. However, this segment is likely to enter a rapid upturn owing to high demand from automotive, industrial, and telecom applications. In particular, the GaN power device market will undergo the fastest growth, with a $61 million revenue, a 90.6% YoY increase, projected for 2021.

TrendForce expects three factors to drive the rapid growth of the GaN and SiC markets in 2021: First, widespread vaccinations are projected to drastically curb the spread of the pandemic, thereby galvanizing a stable increase in the demand for base station components, as well as for components used in industrial energy transition, such as power inverters and converters. Secondly, as Tesla began adopting SiC MOSFET designs for its in-house inverters used in Model 3 vehicles, the automotive industry has started to place increasing importance on 3rd gen semiconductors. Finally, China will invest enormous capital into its 14th five-year plan starting this year and expand its 3rd gen semiconductor production capacity to ultimately achieve semiconductor independence.

Resurging demand from EV, industrial, and telecom sectors will bring about a corresponding increase in 3rd gen semiconductor device revenue

Although certain foundries, such as TSMC and VIS, have been attempting to manufacture GaN devices with 8-inch wafers, 6-inch wafers are still the mainstream. As the pandemic shows signs of a slowdown, the demand for RF front end in 5G base stations, for smartphone chargers, and for automotive on-board chargers has now gradually risen. As such, total yearly revenue from GaN RF devices is projected to reach US$680 million, a 30.8% increase YoY, in 2021, whereas GaN power device revenue is projected to reach $61 million, which is a 90.6% increase YoY.

In particular, the remarkable increase in GaN power device revenue can primarily be attributed to the release of fast chargers from smartphone brands, such as Xiaomi, OPPO, and Vivo, starting in 2018. These chargers enjoyed excellent market reception thanks to their effective heat dissipation and small footprint. Some notebook computer manufacturers are currently looking to adopt fast charging technology for their notebook chargers as well. Going forward, TrendForce expects more smartphone and notebook chargers to feature GaN power devices, leading to a peak YoY increase in GaN power device revenue in 2022, after which there will be a noticeable slowdown in its upward trajectory as GaN power devices become widely adopted by charger manufacturers.

On the other hand, 6-inch wafer capacities for SiC devices have been in relative shortage, since SiC substrates are widely used in RF front end and power devices. TrendForce expects yearly SiC power device revenue to reach $680 million, a 32% increase YoY, in 2021. Major substrate suppliers, including Cree, II-VI, and STMicroelectronics, are planning to manufacture 8-inch SiC substrates, but the short supply of SiC substrates will unlikely be resolved until 2022.

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

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

2021-03-04

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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