Supply & Demand

When a Shortage Looms

DRAM Prices 1991-1997The Memory Guy has been getting calls lately asking how to tell that a shortage is developing.  My answer is always the same: It’s hard to tell.

One indicator is that spot prices which were below contract prices rise above contract prices.  This doesn’t happen for all components or densities of DRAM or NAND flash at the same time.  Some of these transitions are temporary as well.  It takes patience to see if it was a momentary change or if it was the onset of a shortage.

DRAM spot prices have generally been below contract prices since August 2014, but this month they raised above contract prices.  NAND flash spot prices also fell below contract prices in mid-2014 but today NAND’s spot price remains lower than contract prices.

Lead times represent another indicator.  If the lead time for a number of components increases then those chips are moving into a shortage.  Lead times have recently been rising for both NAND flash and DRAM.

A third indication occurs when suppliers start to Continue reading

Understanding Samsung’s DRAM CapEx Cut

Historical DRAM Wafer ProductionAccording to a Business Korea article Samsung announced, during a June 14 investor event, plans to reduce its DRAM capital spending and shift its focus to 3D NAND.

The Memory Guy sees this as an unsurprising move.  This post’s chart is an estimate of DRAM wafer production from 1991 through 2014.  There is a definite downtrend over the past few years.  The peak was reached in 2008 at an annual production of slightly below 15 million wafers, with a subsequent dip in 2009 thanks to the global financial collapse at the end of 2008.  After a slight recovery in 2010 the industry entered a period of steady decline.

The industry already has more than enough DRAM wafer capacity for the foreseeable future.

Why is this happening?  The answer is relatively simple: the gigabytes per wafer on a DRAM wafer are growing faster than the market’s demand for gigabytes.

Let’s dive into that in more detail.  The number of gigabytes on a DRAM wafer increases according Continue reading

Putting DRAM Prices in Perspective

DRAM Low Spot Pricing 2011-2016For almost two years there has been a lot of worry about DRAM spot prices.  This post’s graphic plots the lowest weekly spot price per gigabyte for the cheapest DRAM, regardless of density, on a semi-logarithmic scale.  (Remember that on a semi-logarithmic scale constant growth appears as a straight line.)

The downward-sloping red line on right side of the chart shows that DRAM prices have been sliding at a 45% annual rate since October 2014.  This has a lot of people worried for the health of the industry.

What most fail to remember, though, is that DRAM spot prices hit their lowest point twice in 2011, at $2.40 in August, and then $2.20 in November.  Today’s lowest DRAM spot prices have only recently dipped below the $2.52 point hit in October of 2014.

The black dotted line in the chart is intended to focus readers’ attention on DRAM costs, which decrease at a 30% average Continue reading

XMC Breaks Ground for 3D NAND Fab

2015 XMC campus

China foundry XMC has broken ground for its new 3D NAND flash fab, the country’s first China-owned 3D NAND flash facility.  Plans for this fab were publicly disclosed over a year ago.  Simon Yang, XMC’s CEO, gave a presentation at SEMI’s Industry Strategy Symposium (ISS) on January 11, 2015 in which he detailed the need for China to produce a larger proportion of its overall chips, explaining how his company would help make that happen.

Yang used the map in this post’s graphic to show that XMC has enough land on its campus for six 300mm wafer fabs.  Two shells (yellow), each capable of processing 30,000 wafers per month, had been constructed by that time: Fab A (left) was already fully utilized, and Fab B (right) was ready for tooling.  The gray boxes show that the site has enough space to build 2 additional 2-line megafabs, each with a capacity of up to 100k wafers per month.  Accoding to DRAMeXchange XMC currently produces 20,000 wafers of NOR flash per month.  A March 30 China Daily article reports that monthly wafer production will reach 300,000 in 2020 and 1 million in 2030.

XMC’s formal name is Wuhan Xinxin Semiconductor Manufacturing, and it is located Continue reading

DRAM Prices Down, But Not So Bad

DRAM Spot Price per GB HistoryFor the past ten months DRAM prices have been undergoing a steady slide.  Is the market in a crisis?  Not really!

Today’s low spot price of $4.30/GB puts us on a par with February 2013, a full two years ago (see chart).  DRAM makers have done a lot to reduce their production costs since that time, so their margins this quarter will be much better than they were in the first quarter of 2013.

But we are still a very long way from the bottom of the last market downturn.  In late 2012 spot prices reached a low of $2.52/GB, a full 41% lower than today’s lowest spot prices.

The Memory Guy models the production costs of leading memory chips, and DRAM manufacturing costs have been decreasing for the past several years at an average annual rate of about 30%.  That means that costs today are about half of what they were two years ago, and one third of their level this time in 2012.

So even though today’s Continue reading

SIA: Memories Drive Record Semi Revenues

SIA LogoThe SIA yesterday released the WSTS semiconductor sales data for September.  Monthly revenues reached a record $27 billion driving third-quarter revenues to their own record of $81 billion.  This was the seventh straight month of semiconductor growth, the first such run-up since 2010.

This quote, by SIA CEO Brian Toohey really caught The Memory Guy’s eye: “Sales of memory products have increased sharply compared to last year and continue to be a major driver of industry growth.”

A lot has been happening to drive this increase in memory revenues: The recent SK hynix fire increased DRAM prices, but Continue reading

Hynix Squeaks Out Another Update

Hynix Wuxi FireIn its own uniquely minimalistic style, Hynix has updated the status of the second line of its Wuxi fab, the one that was hit by a fire on September 4:

We would like to provide the following update on the recovery status of  SK Hynix Wuxi fab that was affected by the fire on Wednesday September 4, 2013. The air ventilation system and cleanroom in the line that was affected by the fire have now been substantially restored, and we have resumed partial utilization in this line from Thursday October 10, 2013. We will gradually raise utilization and make every effort to recover normalized level of pre-fire utilization in November as planned.

This statement should put to rest Continue reading

DRAM Prices on the Rise

2013-03-12 DRAM Spot PricesThere’s been a lot of talk recently about increasing DRAM prices.  Although this trend has been ongoing since late November (see chart) it has only recently garnered the attention of the press.

What is going on, and how is it likely to play out?  The prices in the chart represent the lowest spot market prices reported by market tracker InSpectrum for the past year.  These prices typically remain below contract prices as long as there is an oversupply, and stay above contract prices during a shortage.

According to InSpectrum’s figures, today’s lowest spot market DRAM prices are about double Continue reading

Is there a NAND Shortage? Not quite.

NAND Weekly Spot Price per GB - Up Slightly SInce JulyThe trade press has recently carried reports of a NAND shortage which The Memory Guy finds to be very premature.  True, NAND prices are not at their lowest point – today NAND can be found for 38 cents per gigabyte, up from a low of 31 cents in July.  But does this constitute a shortage?  No, not really.

One of the key indicators of a shortage is a crossover between spot and contract pricing – during an oversupply spot pricing is lower than contract pricing since OEMs and suppliers both place excess product on the market and compete on price.  During a shortage the opposite is true – suppliers don’t have any Continue reading

Does the ‘Windows Bump’ Really Exist?

Windows Introductions vs DRAM Bit GrowthDRAM manufacturers often refer to “The Windows Bump” – a phenomenon that is believed to occur after every release of a new version of the Windows operating system.  According to this theory DRAM demand increases for a period following an introduction.

An example: in a recent article Kingston VP Scott Chen said that an increase in sales for Windows 8 might help raise DRAM demand, leading to more stable prices.

Demand is expected to pick up on the upcoming launch of Windows 8 tablets and Ultrabook PCs later in the second half of 2012.

Does the Windows Bump really exist?  The Memory Guy thought Continue reading

Contact

Jim Handy Objective Analysis Memory Market Research +1 (408) 356-2549 Jim.Handy (at) Objective-Analysis.com

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