Forget About Memory Stocks For Now

Includes: MU, QI, WDC
by: Eric Savitz

Market research firm iSuppli Tuesday downgraded its rating on near-term conditions for suppliers of NAND and DRAM memory chips to “negative.” They had been neutral on the NAND market since March, and the DRAM market since July.

The basic issue: pricing.

According to iSuppli, the global average selling price for 512 Mbit NAND will drop 24% in the fourth quarter, to 46 cents from 60 cents. The price of the same part had increased 8.4% in the third quarter and 6% in the second quarter. Nam Hyung Kim, chief market analyst for memory ICs and storage systems at iSuppli, said in a statement that NAND pricing is being pressured by over-supply as Korean DRAM makers shift capacity to NAND.

Meanwhile, iSuppli says that conditions in the DRAM market “couldn’t get much worse.” He says prices have been falling since September and have dropped below the cash costs of production. He says pricing on 512 Mbit DDR2 DRAM “has been collapsing,” with spot market pricing below $1 this week. “This likely will result in most DRAM suppliers posting losses in the fourth quarter,” Kim writes.

Kim expects DRAM makers to return to operating profits in the 2008 second quarter, with NAND pricing recovering in the third quarter. “However, this scenario assumes suppliers’ behavior will be rational, and they will not engage in any massive production increases that could send DRAM pricing into a dive,” Kim adds. “Any irrationality could drag out the market recovery.”

Among the memory stocks, Micron (NASDAQ:MU) Tuesday is up 6 cents at $9.38; Qimonda (QI) is up 16 cents at $8.79, and SanDisk (SNDK) is up 90 cents at $38.50.

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