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Reports of memory market recovery greatly exaggerated: iSuppli

April 24, 2009 Comments off

EL SEGUNDO, USA: Concerned about their image as they face the specter of bankruptcy, many memory chip suppliers are attempting to paint a more optimistic picture of the business by talking up a potential market recovery.

However, while overall memory chip prices are expected to stabilize during the remaining quarters of 2009, iSuppli Corp. believes a true recovery in demand and profitability is not imminent.

After a 14.3 percent sequential decline in global revenue in the first quarter DRAM and NAND flash, the market for these products will grow throughout the rest of the year. Combined DRAM and NAND revenue will rise by 3.6 percent in the second quarter, and surge by 21.9 percent and 17.5 percent in the third and fourth quarters respectively.

“While this growth may spur some optimism among memory suppliers, the oversupply situation will continue to be acute,” said Nam Hyung Kim, director and chief analyst for memory ICs and storage at iSuppli.

“For example shipments of DRAM in the equivalent of the 1Gbit density will exceeded demand by an average of 14 percent during the first three quarters of 2009. This will prevent a strong price recovery, which will be required to achieve profitability for most memory suppliers.”

Painful oversupply
Due to a long-lasting glut of DRAM, the imbalance between supply and demand is too great for this market to recover to profitability any time soon.

“Even if all of the Taiwanese DRAM suppliers idled all their fabs, which equates to 25 percent of global DRAM megabit production, the market would remain in a state of oversupply,” Kim said. “This illustrates that the current oversupply is much more severe than many suppliers believe—or hope.”

Besides cutting capacity, which suppliers have already been doing, they presently have few options other than waiting for a fundamental demand recovery. iSuppli believes that another round of production cuts will take place in the second quarter, which will positively impact suppliers’ balance sheets late this year or early in 2010 at the earliest.

DRAM prices now amount to only one-third-level of Taiwanese suppliers’ cash costs. Unless prices increase by more than 200 percent, cash losses will persist for these Taiwanese suppliers.

While average megabit pricing for DRAM will rise during every quarter of 2009, it will not be even remotely enough to allow suppliers to generate profits in this industry. The industry needs a dramatic price recovery of a few hundred percentage points to make any kind of impact.

iSuppli is maintaining its “negative” rating of near-term market conditions for DRAM suppliers.

Confusing picture in NAND
The picture is a little more complicated in the NAND flash memory market.

Pricing for NAND since January has been better than iSuppli had expected. However, iSuppli believes this doesn’t signal a real market recovery.

Most NAND flash makers are continuing to lose money. The leading supplier, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., seems to be enjoying the current NAND price rally as prices have almost reached the company’s break-even costs. However, all the other NAND suppliers still are losing money.

“While the NAND market in the past has been able to achieve strong growth and solid pricing solely based on orders from Apple Computer Inc. for its popular iPod and iPhone products, this situation is not likely to recur in the future,” Kim said. “Even if Apple’s order surge, and it books most of Samsung’s capacity, it would require a commensurate increase in demand to other suppliers to generate a fundamental recovery in demand.”

However, iSuppli has not detected any substantial increase in orders from Apple to other suppliers. Furthermore, Apple’s orders, according to press reports, are not sufficient to positively impact the market as a whole.

It doesn’t make sense for major NAND suppliers Toshiba Corp. and Hynix Semiconductor Inc. to further decrease their production if there is a real fundamental market recovery. This means supply will continue to exceed demand and pricing will not rise enough to allow the NAND market as a whole to achieve profitability.

The NAND flash market is in a better situation than DRAM at least. However, the market remains challenging because fundamental demand conditions in the consumer electronics market have not improved due to the global recession.

One of the reasons why the price rally occurred is that inventory levels have been reduced in the channel and re-stocking activity has been progressing. Overall, memory suppliers will begin to announce their earnings shortly and iSuppli will remain cautious about the NAND flash market until we detect solid evidence, not just speculation, of a recovery.

iSuppli is remaining cautious about the near term rating of NAND market, holding its negative view for now, before considering upgrading it to neutral.

“Production cuts undoubtedly will have a positive impact on the market in the future. However, it’s too early for to celebrate. iSuppli believes the surge in optimism is premature. Supplier must be rational and watch the current market conditions carefully to avoid jumping to conclusions too quickly,” Kim concluded.

2009 DRAM CAPEX decreased by 56 percent: DRAMeXchange

April 19, 2009 Comments off

The 2008 DRAM chip price dropped more than 85 percent, while the global DRAM industry has faced more than two years of cyclical downturn, and the consumer demand suddenly froze because of the global financial crisis in 2H08.

In 1Q09, the DDR2 667 MHz 1Gb chip price rebounded to an average of US$ 0.88, which fell between the material cost and cash cost level. Still, the DRAM vendors encountered huge cash outflow pressure. Not only were capacity cut conducted, the process migration schedules were also delayed in the wake of respective sharp CAPEX cuts.

According to the survey of DRAMeXchange, the worldwide DRAM CAPEX of 2009 has been revised down to US$ 5.4 billion, sharply down by 56 percent, in contrast to the US$ 12.2 billion in 2008.

WW DRAM 50nm process migration schedules all deferred one to two quarters
From the roadmaps of DRAM vendors, the adoption schedule of DRAM mass production using the 50 nm process have now been delayed one to two quarters. DRAMeXchange estimates that by the end of 2009, the DDR3 will account for 30 percent of the standard DRAM.

Regarding the new DDR2 and DDR3 process migration, all DRAM vendors still own different types of strategies of density and types. For example, the Korean vendors’ 50 nm process migration schedules of DDR 3 are earlier than DDR2 and the 2 Gb DDR3 mass production schedule is earlier than the 1Gb chip.

As for the US and Japanese vendors, according to their DDR3 roadmap, the 50 nm process will be introduced between 3Q09 and 4Q09, which is later than the Korean vendors, and also firstly with mass production of 2 Gb DDR3. Therefore, in the DDR3 era, the density will mainly be 2 Gb which is a lower cost driver with more stimulating incentive to the market demand of higher density chips. The Taiwanese vendors are under the high cash pressure and are falling behind in the 50 nm process race. They are mainly focused on “pilot production”.

Gross die increases 40-50 percent as 50nm process drives down cost
According to the Moore’s Law, the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every 12 months. After the process shrinking became more difficult in the recent decade, it increased to 24 months. With new process migration, the closer the line distance is the larger gross die number a single wafer gets, meanwhile the cost is lower and the vendors gain more competitiveness.

The average DRAM output increased about 30 percent during the process migration from 70nm to 60nm. With improvements of process design and die shrink in the same generation of process technology, the output can once again increase 20 percent. In the 50nm generation, the output will increase almost 40-50 percent, compared to 60nm process and the number of gross die increases to 1500-1700 per 12 inch wafer with another 30 percent cost down.

Cost of immersion lithography tools major capex of 50nm process migration
The major challenge of 50nm process migration is the lithography technology. The newest immersion lithography equipment is required and the older exposure equipment at the wavelength of 193nm is no longer suitable under 65nm process, due to physical limitations.

Traditional dry lithography uses air as the medium to image through masks. However, immersion lithography uses water as the medium. Immersion lithography puts water between the light source and wafer. The wavelength of light shrinks through water so it is able to project more precise and smaller images on the wafer. This is the invention that enabled the semiconductor process technology to migrate from 65nm to 45nm.

The current major immersion equipment vendors are ASML, Nikon, and Canon. The largest vendor in the market is AMSL, which is now mainly promoting its XT1900Gi, a tool that is capable to go lower than 40nm and is the most accepted model in the industry. Nikon still promotes its NSR-S610C, which was launched in 2007 and is able to go down to 45nm process. Canon launched its FPA-7000AS7 in mid 2008 that supports the process under 45nm.

DRAM makers being offered lifelines via bail out plans!

December 24, 2008 Comments off

Browsing the Web these past days has brought me to various stories, mostly discussing the various bail out plans being provided for some leading DRAM makers.

It all started with Germany based Qimonda announcing that it has arranged a Euro 325 million financing package for the ramp up of its innovative Buried Wordline technology.

Yesterday, Hynix, the Korean DRAM maker, received a bail out of $597 million, according to reports on Fabtech. The story also reports that Powerchip Semiconductor, Taiwan’s largest DRAM maker, is also seeking new funding.

Then, DigiTimes, a very good technology news Web site from Taiwan, reported yesterday that Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) had reportedly developed an NT$200 billion (US $6.5 billion) bail out plan for Taiwan’s hard-hit DRAM makers.

Sitting in India makes it a little difficult to speak with global companies based in Taiwan, Korea and Germany. I sometimes wish I could get some help from reliable sources as to what’s the actual ground situation.

Having said that, it is good to see various national governments showing their deep concern about the state of the global DRAM industry and about technologies. And, let us keep all criticisms aside, as to who performed and who didn’t! Here’s a lesson for India to learn from, as closer home, it has a semiconductor industry really in its infancy!

Right now, the global semiconductor industry is facing a downturn and memory is the hardest hit! Hence, if any measures are being taken to somehow bring DRAM back on track, it should be welcomed.

Qimonda, Hynix, Powerchip, etc., are not small names in the global industry. Poor performance from memory players saw them dropping out of the top 20 global semiconductor players’ rankings in 2008.

All the lifelines being provided to these major players now means that these companies need to pull it off, somehow, and extricate themselves from the depths they have fallen into. If they fail, they will perish! And, they all know that!!

I’d be very keen to see the responses of DRAMeXchange and iSuppli on these bail out plans.

Merry X’mas everyone, and hope you all have a great time!

PS: I have iSuppli’s feedback!

Speaking on the Taiwan government’s bail-out plan as well as Hynix’s rescue package from banks, John Lei, Analyst, memory, iSuppli Corp., said: “In general, Hynix’s package is much like a short-term relief for their near-term debt, while the Taiwan government aims at the possible consolidation of five suppliers.”

“All these packages could bring more uncertainties to the maket, however, based on iSuppli’s assumption and forecasts. The industry operation profit margin will hit bottom in Q4-08, but profitability of the industry will not occur until Q4-09,” he added.

Memory market to witness another negative sales growth in 2009

December 7, 2008 Comments off

This is a continuation from my previous blog on the outlook for the global semiconductor industry, and iSuppli’s ranking of the Top 20 global semiconductor companies.

Thanks to Jon Cassell at iSuppli, I also got into a conversation with Nam Hyung Kim, Director & Chief Analyst, iSuppli. Kim touched upon the outlook for DRAM and the memory market as a whole.

Further analyzing iSuppli’s top 20 rankings, among the leading memory makers, Hynix has performed the worst. On this aspect, Kim says that DRAM sales is likely to decline by 20 percent in 2008. Thus, Hynix’s performance is not far from overall challenging status considering it also scaled NAND flash business back dramatically.

On another note, Qimonda is also among the strugglers, and there have been whispers about its possible bankruptcy. However, iSuppli did not comment on this topic.

So, how much longer will it take before the memory market can come out of its current woes? Kim adds: “The memory industry inevitably will experience another negative sales growth in 2009. However, the rate of sales decline will be much lower than that of 2008.

“The year 2009 will be the third year of the memory market downturn. Therefore, supply growth reduction will take place fast, resulting in lower price drop compared to 2008.”

Finally, what’s the way forward for DRAM, NOR and SRAM? Kim asserts that iSuppli expect the following sales growth in 2009 (preliminary):
* DRAM: single digit percentage sales decline; and
* NAND, NOR, SRAM will experience mid to high teens sales decline.

Global semicon could decline by over 5pc in 2009!

December 4, 2008 Comments off

The year 2008 will soon be relegated to history, albeit with the dubious distinction of handing out an extremely unforgettable year for the memory chip makers!

This trend was starkly evident, as a major downturn in this segment caused revenue to fall for nearly all suppliers and contributed to negative results for the overall semiconductor industry, according to recently released preliminary market-share figures from iSuppli Corp. (The memory market is being dealt with in the next blog!)

The key question remains as to whether the semicon industry has really lost the money-making ability? According to Dale Ford, senior vice president, market intelligence services, for iSuppli, the semiconductor industry goes through cycles of revenue growth and profitability. He says, “It would not be correct to extrapolate the current challenges of the semiconductor industry and say that the industry has “lost its money-making ability.”

iSuppli expects that the the industry will experience some level of restructuring during this downturn that will help it emerge to renewed revenue growth and profitability.

Revenue to drop 2 percent
Given the current scenario, it is taken for granted now that the global semicon revenue will likely decline in 2008. Ford says: “iSuppli predicts that the semiconductor industry will decline by 2 percent in 2008. However, it is possible for the decline to worsen as more companies revise down their fourth quarter guidance.”

The primary reasons for the decline are the over supply of memory ICs and resulting steep price declines and the global financial/economic crisis that has impacted consumer spending and the production of electronic equipment.

Fabless flies high
Coming down to the top 20 semiconductor suppliers (see table above), it would be interesting to see how the fabless companies have fared overall.

Ford says that Qualcomm, Broadcom and nVidia are predicted to be the only fabless companies in the top 20 semiconductor suppliers in 2008.

“Qualcomm and Broadcom are expected to see their revenues grow by 19.6 percent and 26.4 percent, respectively. Only nVidia is expected to see a decline in revenues with a projected contraction of 0.5 percent,” he adds.

There are some non-memory players in the top 20, who have registered declines. While it is not possible to comment on every single company, Ford mentions that the declining revenues are due to a variety of factors, including divestiture of business units, declining markets, and lost market share.

Fab spend and outlook 2009
Critically, there is a need to also see how the fab spends are looking like in 2009.

According to SEMI’s recent World Fab Forecast, spending on fab construction projects in 2008 is likely to decline by 41 percent year-over-year (YoY), as projects are pushed out or put on hold. In 2009, the Americas and Japan are expected to be the only regions with positive growth rates for construction spending.

Ford adds, “Currently, we see fab spending declining significantly in 2009.”

Overall, what’s the outlook going to be like for the global semiconductor industry in 2009! Ford concludes: “We have not released a formal forecast to the press at this time. However, I will say that we expect the semiconductor market to decline by more than 5 percent in 2009.”

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