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Changing the pyschology of memory pricing: instead of free fall pricing, memory purchasers are starting to adopt a more stable purchasing strategy  (Source: Samsung)
Practically every new mobile device today uses flash memory for storage -- are the parallels obvious?

One attendee at the Samsung FutureUnlimited conference described NAND factories as "the digital equivalent of an oil well."  It's certainly not hard to link the incredible margins of NAND memory to that of the world's largest commodity, but the similarities don't stop there.

An industry that totaled just one billion dollars in 2001 will eclipse the entire DRAM market within the next two or three years, totaling just over $15 billion in revenue last year.  Conservative estimates put the 2008 revenue total at $21 billion.

The world's insatiable appetite for solid-state memory dominates every facet of portable electronics, and with the introduction of 64GB and 128GB solid-state hard drives, the desktop is next. 

In just the last year, the major flash memory players sunk incredible amounts of money into new facilities.  Toshiba and SanDisk announced a joint-venture estimated to cost $16.7 billion to build three NAND factories in Japan. Samsung's one million square-foot NAND fab under construction in Austin is the largest single foreign investment in the U.S. ever; an appropriate home for digital Texas Tea.

Apple, Intel and SanDisk, to name just a few, adjusted earnings based solely on NAND pricing projections. Cheap, ubiquitous flash memory is bad for suppliers like Intel, but good for consumers like Apple.  The inverse is true during a shortage.

"Pricing has moved very rapidly, much more so than we thought," Intel CEO Otellini admitted earlier this week.

Samsung vice president of memory marketing Jim Elliot believes a fundamental change will occur with flash memory this year.  "We're going to see a psychology change this year.  The stair-step model for NAND pricing will become a sideways S-curve."  Elliot then flipped his slide deck to a picture of Sigmund Freud with a squiggly line on his forehead.

An outage last August at a Samsung NAND fab cost the company a "mere" $54 million in lost revenue, but it propelled the memory industry into speculation and unstable prices for months after.  Similar trends occur in the oil market when a refinery malfunctions.

"In the past, NAND prices tended to exhibit trends of oversupply and falling prices, followed by undersupply and flat prices," Elliot elaborated.  This is a trend typically found in markets like microprocessors.  "Moving forward, instead of minimizing inventory risks, we project companies will opt for strategic buy-aheads to take advantage of rise-and-fall price fluctuations."  This trend is more akin to the jet fuel market.

What Elliot describes is a bonafide futures market. The end result for consumers?  As the NAND market begins to stabilize, we'll stop seeing the price-per-gigabyte halve each year, and we'll stop seeing companies dramatically adjust earnings based a market that isn't as volatile.

With so many competitors in the NAND production game, it only takes a new factory or outage to upset the delicate spot market pricing. But as more companies like Intel and Apple begin to adopt the S-curve mentality, consumers will ultimately benefit from companies that can project supply and pricing for longer periods of time.

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Commodity Market
By TomZ on 3/7/2008 3:52:44 PM , Rating: 4
So in other words, NAND is becoming a commodity market. I'm not sure how significant of an observation that is.

Drawing a parallel between NAND and oil necessarily drags in all kinds of other baggage like politics, environmentalism, etc. that don't really apply the same way as they do to the NAND market. So I'm not sure it's an apt comparison.

Makes for an interesting headline, however.

RE: Commodity Market
By spluurfg on 3/7/2008 9:44:59 PM , Rating: 3
Agree completely -- a significant amount of electronics is highly commoditized -- options are traded on DRAM, for example, which is still highly volatile.

The trick with oil is that while finite, it is relatively abundant (you can still find millions of barrels in the ground) and is an easily tapped source of energy. People won't switch until it is economically sensible to do so (which might be starting to happen now).

Flash memory is simply manufactured, lasts a long time, and it's entirely possible that a newer, better, or cheaper alternative will be developed within 10 years which would be phased in without consumers ever learning the abbrevation NAND.

RE: Commodity Market
By KristopherKubicki (blog) on 3/7/2008 10:47:27 PM , Rating: 2
While DRAM has been a commodity for years, NAND has never been. Yeah it seems trivial, but this is a big deal to companies that that make products that are well, completely subject to NAND pricing (Apple, SanDisk, etc).

RE: Commodity Market
By spluurfg on 3/8/2008 1:52:31 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, I think we all agree that NAND is heading in the direction of commoditization. However, the petroleum analogy does not make sense to me, beyond that it might be an expensive commodity, which I could claim about a variety of things.

RE: Commodity Market
By KristopherKubicki (blog) on 3/13/2008 2:06:39 PM , Rating: 2
Well -- except for the fact that fluctuations in NAND have extensive effects throughout the entire electronics industry. Electronics need and love NAND, and many of them can't do without it now. This is much different than say, coffee, which really only affects a localized market in times of fluctuation.

NAND is not like oil at all
By PandaBear on 3/7/2008 3:57:21 PM , Rating: 3
You can live without NAND, and its supply is based on manufacturing capacity. Oil is a finite resource controlled by a few countries that want to jack up the price, NAND supply depends on how much each company invest in production and it is mainly the FAB's fixed cost that dominate the supply.

Usually you have no control over how much oil you use (maybe +/- 10% depends on how heavy your right foot is), but you have total control over how much NAND you use (how big of a USB drive you buy today, etc). The supply of oil is flexible (depends on how happy is OPEC), but it is fixed in NAND (how many billions you invest in your FAB 3 years ago determines how much production you have) and the capacity is not very flexible.

RE: NAND is not like oil at all
By gramboh on 3/7/2008 4:13:04 PM , Rating: 2
Not sure I fully agree on oil. OPEC does not control the majority of the supply anymore. Production depends on capital investment (exploration and production drilling, technological research on enhanced recovery methods etc). There is a finite amount yes, but 'new' reserves (at least new economically) are still out there.

RE: NAND is not like oil at all
By mdogs444 on 3/7/2008 5:38:00 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, there are many reserves still out there that are untapped - ANWR anyone?

But OPEC does control the output of OPEC countries production. Currently, they are keeping them at the same rate, but the OPEC countries (with direct influece from Iran & Venezuela) want to decrease production to drive up the price.

By Master Kenobi (blog) on 3/8/2008 12:11:54 AM , Rating: 2
The higher the prices go, the more economical it becomes to tap reserves outside of OPEC control, or use alternatives. They know this. Right now though the high cost of oil is not due to economics but rather politics and too much fear on several stock markets. Economics is taking a back seat on the Oil issue right now.

RE: NAND is not like oil at all
By BMFPitt on 3/10/2008 11:33:58 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, there are many reserves still out there that are untapped - ANWR anyone?
ANWR is our oil in a glass case. In case of peak oil, break open glass.

RE: NAND is not like oil at all
By smitty3268 on 3/11/2008 12:53:00 PM , Rating: 2
OPEC hasn't been able to limit production for a long time, now. Whenever prices go up high enough, some of the countries cheat by overproducing to get more money.

The problem now is that the US dollar is so weak it seems like prices have gone way up even when they really haven't. Plus, investors are speculating that prices are going to keep going up and it seems like a safe bet in a struggling economy.

I agree with the other poster, AMWR should be saved for when we really need it, just like the Strategic Oil Reserve.

Trouble for the SSD Market?
By Goty on 3/7/2008 4:24:45 PM , Rating: 2
Seeing prices stabilize certainly isn't going to help the prices of SSDs come down anytime soon, which makes me kind of sad. The performance benefits would be great, but their prices are still well out of reach for most consumers.

By KristopherKubicki (blog) on 3/7/2008 10:48:24 PM , Rating: 2
Yep -- agree completely. And from what I've seen and read, after the 128GB drives, the push for larger capacities is going to slow down. There just isn't the immediate need.

By daar on 3/8/2008 7:20:09 PM , Rating: 2
Good to hear that more jobs are headed our way for once, too bad Toshiba couldn't follow suit with Samsung.

No more wine for that table, sir!
By oTAL on 3/12/2008 7:46:38 AM , Rating: 2
What's up with the the changing thoughts Kris?

"The inverse is true in during a shortage"
In or during?

"We're going to see a change psychology change this year."
O RLY? (

"NAND prices tend to follow exhibit trends"
Hrrrmmm? YA RLY!

"This is trend is"
Now I'm just nitpicking... but hey... since I'm already on the job...

There are a few other unimportant mistakes which I feel don't detract from the pleasure of reading the article.

Keep up the good work DT. (No, this isn't sarcasm! It's a real compliment!)

"Google fired a shot heard 'round the world, and now a second American company has answered the call to defend the rights of the Chinese people." -- Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.)

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