According to DRAMeXchange, a division of global research firm TrendForce, as forecast in a previous report, DRAM contract price showed signs of stabilization in November; the previous US$1 to $2 monthly decline is narrowing, and DDR3 4 GB contract price is holding at the US$15 mark. TrendForce expects the contract price trend will only show a slight decrease in December, and may even stay flat for the month.
As spot market prices fluctuate more than contract prices, the spot market is often a good indicator of future DRAM prices. This week the spot market is seeing increased activity; DDR2 and 2 Gb eTT and DDR2 prices have increased by 1.24% and 1.09%, respectively. Top-tier memory makers began quietly building inventory in October, and spot market buyers seem to be following suit, providing an opportunity for a price rebound. TrendForce believes the DRAM spot price uptrend is due prior capacity cuts taking effect as well as strong entry-level tablet, or "Mobile Internet Device", shipments in China.
From the market perspective, there is hope in sight for both DRAM price recovery and supply and demand balance next year. As the DRAM prices fell to or below cash cost in the second half of 2012, several memory makers have made capacity cuts: Elpida and Rexchip led the pack in August, Powerchip followed with decreased production at its P3 fab in September, and Inotera announced a 20% cut at its IR conference in October. Currently, global DRAM capacity has been reduced by 100K wafers per month from its high in 2012, a 9% decrease.
Furthermore, suppliers are busy adjusting their product mix; the Korean makers have already lowered their commodity DRAM production ratio, focusing instead on more lucrative mobile and server DRAM products, which will benefit commodity DRAM price recovery. Samsung's commodity DRAM output is currently less than 30%, with a goal of under 20% for next year. SK Hynix's commodity DRAM production accounts for approximately 50% of its total output this year, and plans to decrease that to less than 40% in 2013. Approval of the merger between Micron and Elpida is expected in the first quarter of 2013, and as the new team officially begins operations sometime in the second half of the year, product mix adjustments are likely. Inotera is also gradually reducing commodity DRAM output in favor of mobile and server DRAM, while Powerchip will stop new commodity DRAM production altogether at the end of the year, turning entirely to foundry business.
In 2013, the DRAM market is expected to see the lowest yearly growth since the financial tsunami of 2009; a 19.8% increase is forecast, significantly less than this year's 28.1% growth. In summary, as capacity cuts are taking effect and year-end demand is strong for entry-level tablets in China, the DRAM contract price trend stabilized and spot prices rose in November. As a result of product mix adjustments by DRAM suppliers, commodity DRAM will account for 32% of total capacity next year and DRAM industry supply and demand will have a chance to return to healthy levels after the first quarter.
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