The NAND flash industry closed with record revenue during the final quarter of 2012 following renewed strength, reversing the losses previously seen in five consecutive fourth-quarter periods, according to an IHS iSuppli Flash Dynamics market brief from information and analytics provider IHS.
NAND industry revenue in the October to December period of 2012 amounted to $5.6 billion, up a strong 17 percent from $4.8 billion in the third quarter. The sequential increase was significant in two ways. Not only did the uptick defy the recent trend of revenue sliding during the last quarter of a year, the expansion also resulted in the period having the largest revenue takings in industry history.
Samsung Electronics, with more than a third of total revenue, led a tightly held field populated by only a handful of players. NAND flash revenue in 2012 amounted to $20.2 billion.
The 17 percent sequential growth in the fourth quarter last year was in stark contrast to the 6 percent drop in revenue that had regularly occurred during fourth-quarter periods for the previous five years. This time, growth was the result of solid product demand relative to preceding periods of weakness, coupled with a return to health for flash manufacturers. An important factor also was strength in component pricing, which fueled similar vigor in product pricing, stock pricing and- ultimately-revenue.
Major contributors to NAND strength in the fourth quarter include smartphones and tablets, even though density growth is proejcted to slow in 2013 for each smartphone, and has been negative in tablets since 2010. Also playing a notable role in driving NAND growth during the period were solid state drives, along with retail flash products like flash drives and flash cards that likewise continue to attract significant consumer attention.
Overall, the revitalized state of the industry is attracting many new entrants, even though their presence is small in what is especially a scale-intensive space.
Samsung and Toshiba remain biggest players
The market share picture in the fourth quarter was similar to what it was a year earlier, with Samsung Electronics and Toshiba as the top two suppliers of NAND flash memory for the industry.
Samsung had fourth-quarter NAND revenue of approximately $2.0 billion, ending the year with a total of $7.5 billion or 37 percent market share. Samsung's quarterly revenue since 2009 has hovered between $1.7 and $2.1 billion, helped by integration with its booming mobile device business, particularly smartphones.
Toshiba's NAND revenue in the fourth quarter amounted to $1.8 billion for a year-end total of $6.2 billion-good enough for second place with a 31 percent share.
SK Hynix had bigger fourth-quarter NAND revenue at $683 million than Micron Technology's $672 million, although their year-end ranking was reversed, with Micron's $2.7 billion giving it nearly a 14 percent market share, compared to SK Hynix's $2.3 billion that translated into an 11 percent share.
Intel, the fifth player of note, had fourth-quarter revenue of $484 million for a 2012 total of $1.4 billion, equivalent to 7 percent market share.
The rest of the market, at 0.3 percent, was shared by once-bankrupt Spansion along with Powerchip Technology. Spansion products finally hit the market in the fourth quarter, though these are focused on industrial NOR flash customers and will not develop a sizable market share position.
Flash output from Macronix and Winbond Electronics is also expected shortly, even though they are not expected to surpass Spansion's $10 million fourth-quarter revenue level anytime soon.
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