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 percent 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 percent to 8 percent QoQ in 2Q21 after experiencing a 5 percent to 10 percent 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
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 percent 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 percent growth QoQ in 2Q21.
High demand for Chromebooks will provide upward momentum for eMMC quotes
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 3percent to 8 percent 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 percent to 5 percent QoQ in 2Q21, which is relatively lower compared to other NAND Flash products.
NAND Flash wafer contract prices are projected to increase by 5 percent to 10 percent
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 percent to 10 percent QoQ in 2Q21.