While major OEMs such as Apple and Samsung prepare to release their new notebook computers, tablets, and TVs that are fully equipped with Mini LED backlights this year, various companies in the LED supply chain began procuring Mini LED chips ahead of time in 4Q20, leading to an explosive demand growth for these chips, which in turn crowded out the LED suppliers’ production capacities for other mainstream LED chips, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Given this structure-wide shortage of LED chips, certain LED chip suppliers have been raising the quotes on chips supplied to non-core clients and chips with relatively low gross margins. This price hike is estimated at about 5-10%.
TrendForce further indicates that companies in the downstream LED supply chain have started to aggressively procure components in order to mitigate the impending price hike on raw materials and shortage of components due to manufacturers’ tight production capacities after the Chinese New Year. However, products of certain serial numbers or specifications are already in shortage at the moment, therefore prompting these downstream companies to raise quotes first for small- and medium-size clients who place relatively low-volume orders. As for tier one clients who have relatively higher bargaining power, should they reject such a price hike, they would then need to wait for more than two months in lead times, which is significantly longer than the average of two weeks.
Epistar is currently shipping about 150,000 pcs of Mini LED wafers (4-inch equivalent) per month. As Mini LED chips yield far higher gross margins than do traditional LEDs, Epistar has reallocated some of its production capacities for the latter, less profitable products to Mini LED chip manufacturing instead. On the other hand, San’an and HC SemiTek are directly benefitting from Epistar’s order transfers. In addition to persistently growing demand for traditional LED backlights and RGB LED chips for video walls, San’an and HC SemiTek are also shipping several tens of thousands of Mini LED wafers per month (4-inch equivalent) owing to skyrocketing Mini LED demand.
Worth mentioning is the fact that HC SemiTek’s product strategy of focusing on LED chips for display applications is paying off noticeably. By leveraging its competitive advantage of highly cost-effective products, HC SemiTek’s capacity utilization rates have been fully loaded for two consecutive quarters since 3Q20. On the other hand, about 400,000 pcs in PSS production capacity was suspended last month due to the fire at GAPSS’ fab. This incident led to a 5-10% price hike in key upstream LED chip materials including sapphire wafers and PSS, likely to further exacerbate the price hike and shortage of LED chips.
TrendForce believes that the structural shortage taking place in the LED industry, which led to a price hike for LED chips, can primarily be attributed to the that fact the industry underestimated the production capacity needed for key parts of the supply chain during the infancy of pandemic-related emerging applications, in addition to the corresponding production capacity squeeze, although these issues are expected to be resolved within half a year. As well, the downturn experienced by the LED industry within the past few years led to a clearance of excess capacities and subsequently a highly concentrated supply of key materials in the upstream LED supply chain, including sapphire wafers and PSS. As a result, the suppliers of these key materials now enjoy increased bargaining power in price negotiations. Given the simultaneous increase in material costs and limited material supplies, TrendForce thus forecasts a price hike for LED chips.