The overall demand for DRAM will enter a cyclical downturn in 1Q22, during which DRAM ASP will maintain a downward trajectory with an 8-13% QoQ decline.
Quarterly shipment of notebook computers in the fourth quarter of 2021 (4Q21) is expected to remain about the same as the previous quarter’s figures, as prior component gaps were partially resolved during the quarter, according to TrendForce. As such, since PC OEMs’ DRAM inventory has lowered by several weeks, TrendForce has also further reduced its forecast of DRAM price drops for 1Q22. Even so, the overall demand for DRAM will still enter a cyclical downturn in 1Q22, during which DRAM ASP will also maintain a downward trajectory with an 8-13% QoQ decline. Whether this price drop will subside going forward will depend on how well suppliers manage their inventory pressure and how DRAM purchasers anticipate further price changes.
Decline in PC DRAM prices to narrow
While demand for Chromebooks has noticeably slowed down, demand for consumer and commercial notebooks remains strong. Furthermore, certain components which were previously in shortage are starting to experience improved lead times. Hence, quarterly shipment of notebook computers for 4Q21 will likely surpass earlier projections.
Looking ahead to 1Q22, not only will the demand side undergo a cyclical downturn, but the sufficiency ratio of PC DRAM will also surpass 3.0% following 4Q21’s high base period for comparison. These factors will result in DRAM prices undergoing a noticeable decline, although PC OEMs will carry a lower inventory of DRAM in 1Q22 compared with 11-13 weeks of inventory in the previous quarter, thereby helping to curb the price drop of PC DRAM products.
On the other hand, as mobile DRAM prices begin to drop, certain DRAM suppliers have begun reallocating some of their production capacities from mobile DRAM to PC DRAM. As a result, PC DRAM bit supply will likely undergo a corresponding increase in the short run. In sum, although the above factors are able to provide some upside momentum that narrows the price drop of PC DRAM products, they are not enough to result in an upturn. In particular, DDR4 and DDR5 PC DRAM will experience QoQ declines of 5-10% and 3-8%, respectively, for 1Q22, although the latter product will not noticeably impact the overall PC DRAM ASP, as its penetration rate is still relatively low.
Server DRAM prices to decrease
At the moment, CSPs and enterprise clients are carrying about 6-9 weeks and 8-10 weeks of server DRAM inventory, respectively. Although these levels represent a slight decline compared to the end of 3Q21, this decline will not substantially contribute to an increase in demand. Hence, server DRAM buyers will remain relatively conservative with regards to procurement activities before server DRAM prices reach a level that these buyers consider to be rock bottom.
DRAM suppliers’ inventory of server DRAM, on the other hand, has been gradually rising in 1H21 owing to decreased demand. Furthermore, certain suppliers have ramped up their wafer input for server DRAM products, leading to an increased production. In addition, while both buyers and sellers have reached a consensus on the falling prices of server DRAM, supply chain-related component gap issues have become gradually resolved, meaning Tier 1 clients will lessen their server DRAM procurement in the upcoming off-season.
As a result, suppliers will then be able to fulfill orders that were placed by Tier 2 clients but previously deferred because suppliers prioritized orders from Tier 1 clients. These Tier 2 client orders will provide some upside demand for server DRAM, which is a component that is in relative surplus compared to other components. TrendForce expects server DRAM prices to decrease by 8-13% QoQ in 1Q22, during which server DRAM prices will experience the most severe declines compared to the other quarters in 2022.
Mobile DRAM prices to decline
Thanks to mobile DRAM suppliers’ aggressive sell-offs in 4Q21, smartphone brands still carry a high level of mobile DRAM inventory as of the end of 2021. Looking ahead to 1Q22, not only will the market welcome the arrival of the traditional off-season, but other issues with the supply of processor chip bundles and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will also result in a 10% QoQ drop in smartphone production for the quarter.
Smartphone brands will become even more careful with respect to their procurement activities so as to avoid continually accumulating inventory. As smartphone brands revise down their production targets, market demand for mobile DRAM has therefore become weaker now than it was in 1H21, in turn exacerbating the oversupply situation, which is reflected in the persistently rising mobile DRAM inventory of DRAM suppliers. On the whole, the aforementioned issues of high inventory levels and oversupply situation will lead smartphone brands to further conservatize their production and procurement plans in 1Q22. Given that suppliers have suggested a sales strategy of negotiating for 4Q21 and 1Q22 prices collectively, and both buying and selling sides are confronted with inventory pressure, TrendForce thus forecasts an 8-13% QoQ decline in mobile DRAM prices for 1Q22.
Graphics DRAM prices to remain flat
The application demand for graphics DRAM has been recovering noticeably in the recent period. Even so, it is worth pointing out that the graphics DRAM market is subject to a very high degree of fluctuations, and this situation is exacerbated by the introduction of the application demand from cryptocurrency mining in recent years. Because the values of cryptocurrencies can swing dramatically, GPU manufacturers such as NVIDIA and AMD have to constantly adjust their sales strategies and switch between bundling and de-bundling.
In so doing, they are contributing to the rapid rise and fall of graphics DRAM demand. The graphics DRAM products that the three dominant suppliers are now producing belong to the GDDR6 series. The latest distribution of graphics DRAM output by chip type shows that suppliers are also gradually shifting their focus from 8Gb to 16Gb. Micron, in particular, is the most proactive in this transition. On the other hand, the mainstream graphics cards are still using 8Gb chips at this moment, so the demand for 8Gb graphics DRAM chips has actually increased. In addition, spot prices of both GDDR5 8Gb and GDDR6 8Gb chips have experienced huge price hikes.
Due to this uptrend in spot prices, the difference between spot and contract prices is now negligible for graphics DRAM. Some spot transactions even reveal prices that are higher than contract prices. This latest development reflects the situation where buyers are more proactive in price negotiations. Prices of graphics DRAM products on the whole will be fairly constrained from declining further due to the rise in spot prices, the aforementioned demand turnaround, and Micron’s decision to scale back production for 8Gb chips. Taking these factors into account, TrendForce expects that the overall price trend will stay mostly flat.
DDR3 consumer DRAM prices to drop despite reduced supply
The demand for consumer (specialty) DRAM is expected to be relatively weak in 1Q22 due to the effect of the traditional off-season for consumer electronics. Also, demand will stay fairly depressed for TVs, which represent the leading source of in-home entertainment spending. This is because countries around the world will continue in their attempts to lift their pandemic-related restrictions. In addition to these factors, component gaps in the supply chain will still be a serious challenge for device manufacturers.
As DRAM components are in excess supply relative to non-memory components, device manufacturers will be less willing to stock up on the former. Suppliers have been slow to scale back production for DDR3 products this year because prices of DDR3 products surged during the first half of the year. However, the downward pressure on prices has now become much more significant, so the two leading South Korean suppliers have taken the initiative to revise their product mix strategies.
Hence, they will again transfer more of their mature wafer processing capacity from DDR3 products to CMOS image sensors or logic ICs. Turning to price trend, TrendForce points to the strong correlation between DDR4 consumer DRAM products and PC DRAM products. The latter were the first to experience a weakening of demand, and their prices have already made a downward turn in 4Q21. Looking ahead to 1Q22, contract prices of PC DRAM products will keep falling because of their significant difference with spot prices. This means that DDR4 consumer DRAM products will also suffer sliding prices for 1Q22 with QoQ declines reaching 5-10%. Looking at DDR3 consumer DRAM products, their prices will also drop even as their supply is shrinking. Contract prices of DDR3 2Gb chips are projected fall by 3-8% QoQ on average for 1Q22, whereas DDR3 4Gb chips are projected to register larger declines.