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On possible Samsung-SanDisk deal; AMD’s fab-lite path

September 6, 2008 Comments off

Last week, the global semiconductor industry has been hearing and reading about two big speculative stories:

a) A possible acquisition of SanDisk by Samsung, and
b) A possible chance of AMD taking the fab-lite route.

First on Samsung’s buyout (possible) of SanDisk! There have been rumors of a possibility of Samsung acquiring SanDisk. While it is still a possibility, it also leads to several interesting questions!

Should this deal happen, what will be the possible implications for the memory market? Will this also lead to a possible easing off on the pricing pressures on the memory supply chain? And well, what happens to the Toshiba-SanDisk alliance?

A couple of weeks back, iSuppli, had highlighted how Micron had managed to buck the weak NAND market conditions, and was closing the gap with Hynix in Q2, and that NAND recovery was likely only by H2-2009.

I managed to catch up again Nam Hyung Kim, Director & Chief Analyst, iSuppli Corp., and quizzed him on the possible acquisition of SanDisk by Samsung.

A caution: Remember, all of this is merely based on speculation!

On the possibility of Samsung’s takeover of SanDisk, he says: “Samsung at least said that they consider it. Thus, it is a possible deal. But who knows!”

Kim is more forthright on the implications for the memory market, should this deal happen, and I tend to agree with him.

Consolidation inevitable; no impact on prices
The chief analyst quips: “The NAND flash market is still premature and there are too many players in flash cards, USB Flash drives, SSD, etc. The industry consolidation should be inevitable in future.”

So, will this possible buyout at least ease some pricing pressures on memory supply chain? “I don’t expect this deal to impact the prices. Prices will depend on suppliers’ capacity plans. In the memory industry, the consolidation has never impacted the prices in a long run. (maybe, just a short-term impact). As you know, Micron acquired Lexar a few years ago, but no impact,” he adds.

Is there any possibility of SanDisk delaying its production ramps and investments at two of its fabs? And, what will happen should it do so?

Nam says: “SanDisk has already said that they would delay its investment and capacity plan given difficult market condition. This is a positive sign to the market as we expect slower supply growth than expected in future. However, in a long run, consolidation won’t impact the market up and down.”

Negative impact likely for Toshiba?
Lastly, what happens to the SanDisk-Toshiba alliance, should the Samsung buyout of SanDisk does happen?

Nam adds: “It is negative to Toshiba. The company [Toshiba] not only loses its technology partner, but also loses its investment partner. It should be burden for Toshiba to keep investing themselves to grow its business.”

Well, in SEMI’s Fab Forecast Report, there is mention of how Toshiba and SanDisk are among the big spenders in fabs, in Japan. Considering that Japanese semiconductor manufacturers are more cautious, it would be interesting to see how this deal, should it happen, affects the Toshiba-SanDisk alliance.

Now, AMD goes fab-lite?
While on fabs, this brings me to the other big story of last week — of AMD going the fab-lite route, possibly!

Magma’s Rajeev Madhavan had commented some time back that fab-lite is actually good for EDA. It means more design productivity. Leading firms such as TI, NVIDIA, Broadcom, etc., are Magma’s customers.

Late last year, Anil Gupta, MD, India Operations, ARM, had also commented on some other firms going fab-lite! Gupta pointed out Infineon, NXP, etc., had announced Fab-Lite strategies. Even Texas Instruments was moving to a Fab-Lite strategy. “IDMs are going to be the fabless units of today and tomorrow,” he added.

So much for those who’ve taken the fab-lite route, and industry endorsements.

On the fab-lite subject, iSuppli’s Kim will not speculate whether AMD would actually break up into into two entities: design and manufacturing, and also prefers to wait and watch.

How does fab-lite actually benefit? He comments: “Fab-lite has not been working well in the memory industry, which requires very tight control. It works, IF two companies (an IDM and a foundry) work very closely. For example, the industry leader, Samsung, produces all of the memory alone without any foundry relationship.”

Watch this space, folks!

90pc fab investments for 300mm capacity: SEMI

August 31, 2008 Comments off

Recently, SEMI (Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International) released its World Fab Forecast report. This report mentions that projected decline in world semiconductor fab equipment spending of 20 percent is likely for 2008. However, a rebound of over 20 percent in spending is expected in 2009, driven by over 70 fab projects.

The August 2008 edition of this report lists 53 fab equipping projects and up to 21 construction projects for fabs in 2009. It is sincerely hoped that at least one of the fabs likely from the Southeast Asian region is from India!

With the help of Scott Smith Senior Manager, Public Relations, SEMI, I was able to get in touch with Christian Gregor Dieseldorff, Senior Manager of Fab Information and Analysis at SEMI, in an attempt to find out more about the decline in global fab spends, these new fabs, and how these fabs can lead a turnaround in the global semiconductor industry. Thanks Scott!

So what are the chief reasons for the decline in fab spends during 2008? According to Dieseldorff, given the weaker economic conditions globally, coupled with higher energy and commodity prices and the financial crisis, the overall outlook for semiconductor growth in 2008 is for low-single digit growth in both revenues and units. As such, device makers have responded by cutting back their capital spending and pushing out fab projects or putting them on hold.

I was keen to find out the geographic breakup of these 70 new fabs that are likely yo come up in 2009.

Dieseldorff advised that these are not 70 new fabs coming up in 2009. Rather, the numbers reflect 300mm fabs only, and is a mix of on-going and new projects for fabs equipping and fab construction projects in 2009.

For equipping 300mm fabs, SEMI expects about: Americas 8, China 5, Europe and Mideast 4, Japan 7, South Korea 11, SE Asia 3 and Taiwan 15.

For 300mm fab construction projects, SEMI expects about: Americas 3, China 2, Europe and Mideast 1, Japan 2, South Korea 3, SE Asia 2 and Taiwan 8.

What are the salient features of some of these new fabs likely to come up next year (for instance, new tech nodes)? Dieseldorff highlighted that about 90 percent of the investments are for 300mm capacity, and the amount of spending for advanced nodes, such as 65nm, is increasing.

“Also, device makers are building larger fabs, which are termed “mega fabs,” so, to potentially realize a greater return based on scales of economy,” he added.

How will these new fabs contribute to a better performance from the global semicon industry? This will be quite interesting to witness.

Dieseldorff said that over the past several years, demand for semiconductor devices has been quite strong, and so, the industry has had to bring on capacity to support this need, both in terms of needed capacity and technology. Even with the slower market growth in 2008, recent industry data shows healthy levels of fab capacity utilization, especially for the advanced technology generations and for 300mm manufacturing.

He added: “The expectation is that demand for semiconductors will strengthen once global economic conditions improve. So, the capacity addition that is coming online this year and the fab projects that are equipping and beginning construction in 2009 are necessary to meet the future demand.”

So how will all of this affect the overall memory market (e.g., 42pc increase in share for memory)? Dieseldorff shared his thought, a fact, known well to those in the semiconductor industry, that the memory market has been battered by declining average selling prices and a condition termed by some as “profitless prosperity.”

“Looking at demand forecasts specific to memory, tremendous growth is anticipated,” he forecasted.

However, the manufacturers in this device segment are battling it out for market share, and the general expectation is that consolidation will continue.

Also, joint-ventures and partnerships are becoming increasingly critical in the memory sector as manufacturers seek to leverage their existing resources to meet future technology and capacity requirements.

It would be interesting to find out why Taiwan and Korea are forecasted as likely to exceed Japan in fab spend?

According to Dieseldorff, in Korea, Samsung has been and is the key spender, and as a company, it will continue to invest so to have a dominant share in the memory sector.

He said: “In 2009, our expectation is for the DRAM manufacturers in Taiwan to boost spending after cutting back this year. We expect seven new 300 mm fab lines in Taiwan to come into production over the next two years.”

However, spending in Japan has been more measured and is likely to remain so. Toshiba, and its joint-venture partner, Sandisk are the big spenders in Japan, when it comes to new fab capacity. Other Japanese semiconductor manufacturers are more cautious and are focused more on technology spending.

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