The Chinese city of Xi’an has been placed under lockdown due to a local outbreak of the Delta variant, although it remains uncertain as to when the lockdown will end, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Samsung operates two memory fabs in Xi’an, both of which are responsible for the manufacturing of high-layer count 3D NAND Flash products, and wafer inputs at the two fabs account for 42.5% of Samsung’s total NAND Flash production capacity and 15.3% of the global total. At the moment, the lockdown of the city is not expected to have a notable impact on these fabs.
Nevertheless, the municipal government has been authorized to enforce very severe restrictions on the movements of people and goods in and out of the city during this lockdown. While Samsung has finished arranging most of the memory product shipments for the period from the end of 2021 to middle of January next year, the company could face logistical issues related to the Xi’an lockdown in the near future and experience delays in shipments. Samsung’s clients, in turn, could have difficulties planning their procurement activities because deliveries of memory components are not in accordance with the originally set dates. Additionally, the same logistical issues could cause delays in the deliveries of production-related materials to Samsung’s fabs in Xi’an. However, the fabs have sufficient inventory to continue normal production over the next several months.
On the other hand, Xi’an is a strategically important location for both Samsung’s NAND Flash production and Micron’s memory packaging and testing operations. TrendForce’s investigations indicate that the lockdown will likewise have no impact on Micron’s packaging and testing operations, although potential issues with logistics still remain to be seen. In any case, while memory packaging and testing capacities in Xi’an account for a relatively low share of the company total, the lockdown may potentially affect spot prices of DRAM products in the short run.
Short-term DRAM and NAND Flash spot prices may bump up
In terms of pricing, the spot price of NAND Flash has not fluctuated significantly due to the lockdown event. Both buyers and sellers hold significant inventory in the current spot market. Recent trading volume has been weak and price fluctuations have been small. TrendForce will continue to observe subsequent reactions in the NAND Flash spot market and does not rule out the possibility of a short-term price bump due to the expected psychological impact triggered by the lockdown event.
In terms of NAND Flash contract pricing trends moving forward, since production is unaffected, TrendForce still maintains its original opinion, forecasting that average pricing in 1Q22 will fall by 10-15%. However, because the impact of logistics is difficult to predict, the purchasing side may have to increase orders from other suppliers, further fueling a bargain-seeking mentality. The possibility of seeing a flattening in the amplitude of contract price declines for various NAND Flash products in the first quarter of next year cannot be ruled out.
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As UMC and GlobalFoundries successively end their respective developments of advanced processes, the advanced process market has now become an oligopoly, with TSMC and Samsung as the only remaining suppliers （excluding SMIC, which is currently affected by geopolitical tensions between China and the US）. According to TrendForce’s latest investigations, TSMC holds a 70% market share in advanced processes below – and including – the 1Xnm node, while Samsung’s market share is about 30%.
As electronic products demand faster data transmission speeds and better performance in response to IoT and 5G applications, the chips contained in these products also need to shrink in size and consume less power. Hence, process technologies need to evolve in order to enable the production of increasingly advanced chips. In this light, suppliers of such chips as smartphone AP, CPU, and GPU primarily rely on Taiwan for its semiconductor industry’s advanced process technologies.
Why is Taiwan able to hold key manufacturing competencies, market shares, and unsurpassed technologies in the global foundry industry?
After TSMC pioneered its pure-play foundry services more than 30 years ago, UMC also subsequently transitioned to a foundry business model. However, the build-out and maintenance of wafer fabs require enormous human resources, capital expenditures, and environmental support, all of which have been skyrocketing since the industry progressed below the 40nm node into the EUV era. Factors including governmental support, human resource development, utility services, and long-term amortization and depreciation are all indispensable for foundries to keep up their fab operations. TrendForce’s findings indicate that Taiwan possesses about 50% of the global foundry capacity, and this figure will likely continue growing due to the persistent demand for advanced processes.
Taiwanese foundries led by TSMC and UMC operate based on a pure-play foundry model, which means they do not compete with their clients outside of foundry operations. Foundries are able to maximize the profitability of the semiconductor ecosystem in Taiwan thanks to Taiwan’s comprehensive PC, ICT, and consumer electronics industries.
In addition, not only are they able to deliver PPA（performance, power, and area） advantages to their clients through technology scaling and node shrinking, they are also unsurpassed in their comprehensive silicon IP cores and longstanding product development services. Other competing foundries are unlikely to make breakthroughs in these fields and catch up to Taiwanese foundries in the short run.
On the whole, the Taiwanese foundry industry is able to maintain its leadership thanks to competencies in human capital, client strategies, process technologies, capital intensify, economies of scale, and superior production capacities.
Furthermore, not only do advancements in semiconductor fabrication technology require developmental efforts from foundries, but they also need support throughout the entire supply chain, including upstream wafer suppliers and downstream client feedbacks, both of which can serve to eliminate yield detractors and raise yield rates. Therefore, the Taiwanese semiconductor industry derives its advantage from foundries（TSMC, UMC, PSMC, and VIS）, as well as from the cross-industrial support across silicon wafer suppliers（SAS and GlobalWafers）, fabless IC design clients, and packaging and testing operators（ASE, etc.）
（Cover image source: TSMC）
Owing to an uncontrolled spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan has instituted Level 3 restrictions throughout the island. With employees from several tech companies testing positive for the virus, major foundries, including TSMC and VIS, are successively finding positive cases among their midst as well. Worries have therefore cropped up in the global semiconductor supply chain over whether the supply of chip can remain unaffected despite the infections in Taiwan.
Taking into account Taiwan’s share of foundry capacity within the global total, the aforementioned supply chain’s worries are not without merit. According to TrendForce’s investigations, Taiwanese foundries, including TSMC, UMC, VIS, and PSMC, collectively account for about 50% of the global foundry capacity, meaning about 50% of the global supply of chips is contingent on Taiwan.
However, TrendForce also finds that, despite the domestic spread of the pandemic, which forced various companies to institute WFH policies for their employees, most semiconductor fabs are operating without interruptions at the moment, indicating that the COVID-19 pandemic has yet to impact the production and supply of chips.
As well, both TSMC and VIS have immediately made public announcements stating that their operations remain unaffected by the positive cases. However, whether the pandemic can be sufficiently managed and whether it will hinder the supply of semiconductors going forward remains to be seen.
（Cover image source: Pixabay）