Market Watch

Japanese Disaster Spurs Upgrade for 2011 Chip Revenue Forecast

From April 11, 2011

July 29, 2011

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In an ironic twist, supply disruptions related to the Japan earthquake and tsunami will contribute to higher-than-previously expected global semiconductor revenue in 2011, as shortages bolster pricing for key memory devices, new IHS iSuppli research indicates.

The latest IHS iSuppli semiconductor forecast for 2011, issued on March 30, calls for annual semiconductor revenue growth of 7.0 percent, up from the 5.8 percent expansion predicted in the previous outlook from early February. Global semiconductor revenue in 2011 now is expected to amount to $325.2 billion, compared to the previous forecast of $320.1 billion.

Revenue will exceed previous expectations during each quarter of 2011.

DRAM Drives Revenue Increases
The biggest factor contributing to the increased semiconductor forecast is a boost in the revenue outlook for dynamic random access memory (DRAM) devices. The new IHS iSuppli forecast increases the 2011 DRAM revenue forecast by 6.6 percentage points, and now anticipates this area will experience only a 4 percent decline for the year, compared to an expected decrease of 10.6 percent growth previously. The increase in the revenue forecasting in this area is entirely driven by an increase in average selling prices during the first quarter, partly because of supply disruptions caused by the earthquake.

The earthquake will result in a 1.1 percent reduction in global DRAM shipments in March and April. This reduction, along with other factors, contributed to a steadying effect in contract prices for DRAM in March, which typically is a weak month for sales in which prices had been expected to decline by as much as 3 percent. The impact of the prices holding their ground during this period is dramatic—and will represent a major boost for DRAM revenue for the entire year.

Average contract DRAM prices in April are forecast to range from being unchanged to a 2 percent increase, compared to a previously expected decline of 3 to 4 percent.

Neither of Japan’s DRAM fabs was damaged in the quake. However, a chip assembly plant in the Akita area owned by Elpida Memory Inc. suffered a disruption in production, causing the reduction in shipments.

Upward price pressure is expected to ease for DRAM in the second half of the year.

Wafer Woes
DRAM pricing could face further increases later this year if wafer shortage issues worsen.

Japan is the world’s leading producer of silicon wafers, the key raw material used to make semiconductors, accounting for 60 percent of global supply.

Top wafer supplier Shin-Etsu continues to suffer production outages for its 300mm wafer manufacturing. The company’s Kamisu and Nishigo plants are down, which together make up about 20 percent of global wafer production.

As such, the supply of 300-millimeter raw wafers could be a problem for memory makers. And if supply problems persist, manufacturing efficiency will be impacted after raw wafer inventory is depleted. In particular, DRAM output will be affected when the number of wafers in the manufacturing supply chain declines to less than 50 percent of typical levels.

Such a possibility could happen starting in October, resulting in further price increases for DRAM.

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