DRAM, son: Global chip revenues hit $474.6bn in 2018... and that's a slowdown

Samsung's still king and memory still hottest item, despite unstable pricing

Sales growth at the world's chipmakers stalled in 2018 following protracted struggles with DRAM oversupply.

According to numbers compiled by Gartner, the semiconductor sector flogged $474.6bn worth of wares in the 12 months, up 12.5 per cent year-on-year - a marked slowdown on the 21.9 per cent annualised hike recorded for 2017.

"Despite slowing growth, the memory market was still the largest semiconductor market, accounting for 34.3 per cent of revenue," noted research veep Andrew Norwood.

"This was driven by increases in average selling prices (ASPs) for DRAM for the majority of 2018. However, ASPs began to decline in the fourth quarter, and this will continue through most of 2019 due to oversupply conditions."

At the end of last year, a glut in the DRAM space, primarily due to low demand for consumer devices and a lack of low-end Intel CPUs, caused both prices and shipments for memory chips to drop.

Early in March, DRAMeXchange claimed the prices of DRAM silicon experienced their largest decline in almost eight years, with costs crashing by nearly 30 per cent.

Memory was not immune to market forces, growing 24.9 per cent compared to 2017's memory revenue uptick of 61.8 per cent over 2016.

The numbers are lower than projections Gartner made in January: the researcher expected the total semiconductor revenue to reach $476.7bn, which would have meant a 13.4 per cent increase from 2017.

Samsung remained the world's largest semiconductor seller - having snatched the title from Intel back in January 2018 - with $73.6bn in sales, up 20.4 per cent to give it a 15.5 per cent market share.

Gartner noted that 88 per cent of Samsung's revenue came from memory sales, so the company continues to be in a somewhat vulnerable position, a point it made last year.

Intel remained firmly in second spot, growing 12.9 per cent to $66.3bn, giving it a 14 per cent share of the spoils.

The top 5 was rounded up by SK Hynix (up 37.4 per cent to $36.2bn), Micron (up 29.9 per cent to $29.7bn) and Broadcom (up 5.6 per cent to $16.3bn) – the latter ascended in the ranks, replacing Qualcomm - which saw its revenues decline 4.5 per cent to a total of $15.37bn.

The only other revenue decline in the top 10 was seen by Western Digital; the company made $9bn from its semiconductor sales, 0.9 per cent less than in 2017.

Earlier this week, an official from China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said that Chinese vendors were responsible for ¥653.2bn ($97.3bn) in semiconductor sales in 2018 – which would mean around 20 per cent of the global total. Reg readers suggested that number might include silicon produced in Taiwan – though being lumped together with mainland China is something many residents of the country would take an issue with.

Meanwhile, global industry association SEMI said worldwide sales of semiconductor manufacturing equipment surged 14 per cent, from $56.62bn in 2017 to an all-time high of $64.5bn in 2018. The market was led by South Korea, meaning China became the second largest equipment market for the first time. ®

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