NAND Flash market back in growth despite lower memory content trend in portable devices

March 27, 2013 // By Julien Happich
Despite facing five consecutive quarters of decline and a slowdown in consumption in smartphones and tablets, the global market for NAND flash memory pulled off a surprise growth spurt during the last three months of 2012, causing sales to reach a record high, says IHS iSuppli.

NAND industry revenue in the October to December period of 2012 amounted to USD5.6 billion, up an impressive 17 percent from USD4.8 billion in the third quarter, according to an IHS iSuppli Flash Dynamics Market Brief from information and analytics provider IHS. Samsung Electronics, with more than a third of total revenue, led the field. NAND flash revenue for the entire year of 2012 amounted to USD20.2 billion, as shown in the table below.

“The NAND flash market's expansion in the fourth quarter was significant in two ways,” said Ryan Chien, analyst for memory & storage at IHS. “Not only did the increase defy the recent trend of sales sliding during the last quarter of a year, the expansion also resulted in the period having the largest revenue results in industry history. Major contributors to NAND strength in the fourth quarter included smartphones and tablets, even though density growth is projected to slow in 2013 for each smartphone, and has been negative for tablets since 2010. For these markets, rising volumes trumped the trend of slower growth in memory usage in the fourth quarter.”

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. The 17 percent sequential growth in the fourth quarter last year was in stark contrast to the average 6 percent drop in revenue that had 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. Overall, the revitalized state of the industry is attracting many new entrants, even though their presence is small in what is especially a