DRAM buyers were aggressively stocking up during 1H21 because quotes began to rise at the start of the year, and there were concerns about shortages in the supply chain, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. To avoid the risk of a supply crunch, most DRAM buyers kept raising their demand until the middle of the year. Moving into this second half of the year, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated component gaps, the adverse effect of which on OEMs’ ability to assemble their end products has widened as well. Due to having a glut of memory and a shortage of other key components, some OEMs have opted to scale back DRAM procurement. PC OEMs have especially become noticeably restrained in this regard. Fortunately, the server-related segment of the market has been propping up the overall demand; and because of this, most DRAM suppliers were able to post a marginal growth in shipments for 3Q21. Additionally, quotes for DRAM product also kept rising in 3Q21. On account of these factors, the quarterly total DRAM revenue rose again by 10.2% QoQ to US$26.6 billion for 3Q21.
Regarding 4Q21, DRAM buyers that are already carrying a high level of inventory will probably adopt an even more conservative stance, as OEMs are still affected by component gaps in the supply chain while also preparing for stock-taking at the end of the year. Without adequate demand for support, DRAM prices on the whole are going to make a downward turn in 4Q21 and thereby end this short three-quarter period of cyclical price upturn. Also, since 4Q21 is going to be the first quarter in the general downtrend in quotes, buyers anticipate further price reductions in the future and are more reluctant to stock up in the near term. Declines in quotes will continue to widen as a result. With demand shrinking and prices falling, the DRAM industry will inevitably experience a drop in revenue as well.
DRAM suppliers saw higher profits in 3Q21 because of rising prices and growth in output shares of more advanced process technologies
Looking at the performances of individual DRAM suppliers for 3Q21, the three dominant suppliers all had positive revenue growth but diverged slightly in bit shipments. Samsung and Micron posted a small QoQ increase in their respective bit shipments, whereas SK hynix posted a small QoQ drop. The rise in quotes was able to offset the weakening momentum in bit shipments, so the top three suppliers managed to again raise their revenues from the previous quarter. Samsung’s, Sk hynix’s, and Micron’s QoQ revenue growth rates came to 11%, 8%, and 12% respectively. While their growth rates were still around the 10% level, they were more modest compared with the previous quarter. In the ranking by revenue market share, Samsung remained at the top with its market share expanding further to 44%. SK hynix and Micron were still at second and third place respectively. The former’s market share shrank a bit to 27.2% due to the decline in bit shipments, whereas the latter’s market share grew slightly to 22.9%.
In terms of profitability, 3Q21 saw continuing improvements thanks to rising quotes and growth in the output shares of the more advanced process technologies. Samsung raised its operating margin to 53% in 3Q21 as the share of 1Z nm products in its output kept growing. As such, Samsung’s operating margin reached almost to the high of nearly three years ago. Likewise, SK hynix’s operating margin grew to 47% in 3Q21 because of the increase in the output share of 1Z nm products. As for third-largest supplier Micron, the increase in its ASP for its latest fiscal quarter (June to August) is similar to the increases in the two South Korean suppliers’ respective ASPs for 3Q21. Its operating margin also rose to 42% for this period. Moving into 4Q21, TrendForce expects the slide in DRAM prices to be an inescapable trend. Whether individual suppliers will be able to maintain a high level of profitability depends on their own progress in process migration and yield rate improvement.
While the specialty DRAM market weakened in 3Q21, Taiwanese suppliers trailed closely behind the three dominant suppliers
Compared with mainstream DRAM products, specialty DRAM underwent a higher magnitude of price hikes in 1H21. Hence, as demand for TVs and other consumer electronics fell in 3Q21, and supply chain disruptions persisted, clients in turn reduced their DRAM procurement. This reduced demand indirectly impacted the revenue performances of Taiwanese suppliers, which primarily target the consumer electronics market. Nanya Tech continued to raise its quarterly ASP in order to offset weak shipment. The company’s revenue increased by about 6% QoQ in 3Q21, while its operating profit margin also increased from 31.2% in 2Q21 to 38.1% in 3Q21 due to the price hike. Winbond benefitted from high demand for its low-density (1/2Gb) products and recorded a nearly 13% QoQ increase in DRAM revenue in 3Q21. Among all Taiwanese suppliers, Winbond registered the strongest revenue growth during the quarter.
Nevertheless, TrendForce’s investigations also find that the physical spaces within the two aforementioned Taiwanese suppliers’ fabs are now fully occupied, meaning the suppliers are unable to install additional equipment in these fabs before building new fabs. Hence, these suppliers’ financial performances will be heavily impacted by their ASPs in the short run. For instance, Nanya Tech’s new facilities will not contribute to DRAM production until construction finalizes in 2024. In the short run, Nanya Tech is able to slightly increase its DRAM bit shipment only through migrating to the advanced 1A/1B nm process technologies. Similarly, Winbond will be able to continue expanding its production capacity only after its new fab located in Luzhu, Kaohsiung kicks off mass production in 2H22. As for PSMC, its revenue from sales of PC DRAM products manufactured in-house increased by about 6% QoQ in 3Q21. However, PSMC’s total revenue from both sales of in-house DRAM and its DRAM foundry business increased by 12% QoQ in 3Q21.