Dynamic RAM (DRAM) chipmakers are forecasting higher prices for double data rate, second generation (DDR2) memory chips during the next three months, and current trends could mean they'll remain strong all year.
It's a forecast that users who need memory for PCs and other devices should listen to, because a number of factors are sending DRAM prices higher even as the PC market enters its weakest season of the year, the second quarter.
US DRAM maker, Micron Technology, kicked off earnings season for DRAM makers early last week by saying prices for the chips had rebounded after dipping in March.
"DRAM demand exceeded supply in the second half of the quarter," vice-president at Micron, Mike Sadler, said. This was due to growing PC shipments, demand for more memory per PC, increased laptop sales and the market shift to DDR2 from older generation DDR memory for price gains in DDR2, he said.
DRAM demand would rise 50-60 per cent compared to last year, Sadler estimated.
Prices for the most widely used DDR2, 512MB chips that run at 533MHz, have risen 7.4 per cent since the end of last month to $US4.92 on Tuesday, according to DRAMeXchange Technology, which operates an online clearinghouse for memory chips.
The world's largest DRAM maker, Samsung, said that it saw DDR2 prices strengthening in the second quarter.
Taiwan's Nanya Technology and Inotera Memories echoed the sentiment, predicting stable to higher prices in the April-June period, and into the third quarter.
"Although the second quarter is normally the weak season, it doesn't look bad right now," vice-president at Nanya Technology, Pai Pei-lin, said.
"The DDR2 market will really take off after the latest microprocessors from [AMD] hit the market," he said. AMD is expected to launch its first microprocessors made for use with DDR2 in June. Currently, Intel microprocessors work with DDR2.
One wild card that companies mentioned as a possible downer for DRAM prices was Microsoft's delay in shipping Vista, which could affect PC shipments later this year. DRAM makers had expected Vista to cause PC makers to use more memory per box. But the delay in launching the OS could cause some users to put off buying new PCs, which would weaken DRAM prices.
But most companies say PCs shipping later this year will be Vista-compatible, made with components and memory content to allow them to be easily upgraded to the new OS. Strong PC sales cause DRAM prices to rise, since most of the chips end up in desktops and laptops.
Inotera, a joint venture between Nanya Technology and Germany's Infineon Technologies, also sees solid prices for DDR2 during the second quarter, and predicted the trend would boost its earnings.
"The second quarter will be better than the first quarter," Inotera president, Charles Kau, said.
Inotera was mainly producing DDR2 chips that run at 533MHz and 667MHz, he said.
The company reported its revenue leaped 74 per cent year-on-year to $NT8.54 billion ($US262.6 million) as of March 31 (the end of the three-month period being reported) from $NT4.91 billion last year. Its net profit rose 51 per cent to $NT2.67 billion.