Global DRAM recovery: Is DRAM becoming NAND-like?

June 19, 2012 — The dynamic random access memory (DRAM) recovery is sustainable into 2013, say Barclays Capital analysts. DRAM benefits from a supply discipline that was bolstered by oligopoly/DRAM consolidation and the Elpida bankruptcy; robust demand growth from non-PC applications (server/mobile DRAM bit demand to exceed PC for the first time in 2013E); and potential for additional positives related to Elpida (Hiroshima/Rexchip converted to non-DRAM).

Figure 1. DRAM supply/demand. SOURCE: IDC, Gartner, Barclays Research estimates.

What is different from previous cycles? Barclays expects a less dynamic but longer-lived recovery given the oligopoly situation and technological difficulties in geometry migration; and server/mobile DRAM becoming the demand driver, supplanting PC, in 2013, offering a better growth profile and much less volatility.

The DRAM industry is becoming increasingly similar to the NAND industry, and will see an even more rational supply/pricing environment, once Elpida’s bankruptcy and asset sale are resolved. Barclays sees the Elpida situation as similar to SK Hynix’s stumble in NAND in H1 2009. Micron’s strategic choice post acquisition of Elpida could trigger an even better DRAM recovery. The best case scenario would be the disposal of Rexchip (7% of global capacity) and some of Hiroshima fab (10%) migrating to non-DRAM manufacturing, Barclays asserts. Also read: DRAM partially recovers thanks to Elpida bankruptcy 

Figure 2. Global DRAM wafer capacity status. Note: Based on 12-inch wafers. SOURCE: IDC, Barclays Research estimates

What does this mean for share price performance? The peak and the trough of the DRAM cycle will narrow as more demand comes from specialty DRAM, which has less inventory swing, being a more customized product; and more proactive supply control by top-tier manufacturers after becoming an oligopoly. Following a prolonged industry downturn, there are currently fewer players in DRAM market, reducing volatility.

The launch of Samsung’s Galaxy S III LTE, which may adopt 2GB DRAM (vs 1GB of 3G Galaxy S III) and Apple’s iPhone 5, which may adopt 1GB DRAM (vs 512MB iPhone 4S) will significantly boost mobile DRAM demand from Q3 2012, driving tight supply. The impact of DRAM content per box growth for just these two models offers the equivalent of 10 million units of additional PC demand (5% of total PC demand) in H2 2012, Barclays estimates. In servers, an incremental increase in content per server should offer the equivalent of 2 million PCs (1% of total PC demand).

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