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Apple accused of NAND flash memory price manipulation

post #1 of 61
Thread Starter 
Apple has been accused by anonymous industry sources of utilizing "bully" tactics to manipulate NAND flash memory prices to the hardware maker's advantage.

According to The Korea Times, Apple has leveraged its power against major companies like Samsung and Hynix Semiconductor through the popularity of the iPhone and its line of iPods. The company has been accused of suppressing flash memory prices by ordering more chips from semiconductor makers than it actually buys.

Quoting a nameless "senior industry official," the report stated that Apple has asked Korean semiconductor companies to make a certain amount of chips. But the Cupertino, Calif., company allegedly does not purchase the volume it requests.

Instead, sources said, Apple simply waits until chip prices fall to levels the company finds acceptable. Then it purchases its allotment at a price that meets its internal expectations.

Another official called Apple's tactics "absurd," and suggested that the strategy will hurt the health of the NAND flash industry. Prices of flash memory chips are said to have dropped 4 percent this month.

Twice recently, Apple was accused of causing a worldwide NAND flash shortage. Demand for flash memory was said to have been outstripped by supply for major manufacturers as the iPod and iPhone continue to sell millions of units. Demand in the third quarter of 2009 was said to have exceeded supply by 1.3 percent.

The capacity of memory in Apple's flash memory devices has grown exponentially over the years. In September, the company unveiled its largest-ever 64GB iPod touch for $399, doubling the previous largest 32GB offering.
post #2 of 61
I have heard of a limited number of sellers controlling a market, but a buyer controlling a market... that's ridiculous.
post #3 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by fulldecent View Post

I have heard of a limited number of sellers controlling a market, but a buyer controlling a market... that's ridiculous.

post #4 of 61
This is hilarious - Samsung complaining of a buyer using bullying tactics.

Samsung buy from the company I work for, and bully all of their suppliers relentlessly.
post #5 of 61
In theory its not ridiculous. A single super powerful buyer could essentially dictate their terms and control the market. However, the bigger problem is that the flash makers can't have it both ways. Apple has been accused of causing a worldwide flash shortage and apple is accused of not buying enough Flash memory. Those can't both be true. Either Apple is "forcing" makers to make more than they want, and there is a surplus of flash, or they are buying more than the market can make and there is a shortage. Which is it?

Apple may be powerful, but it can't beat the basic logic of supply and demand.
post #6 of 61
Two problems with this claim:

1) If demand is outstripping supply, then it's quite irrelevant that Apple may (or may not) actually buy as much as they ordered. Either way the suppliers are failing to keep up with demand. What would they do if Apple actually did buy as much as they ordered? They can't hardly deliver chips they haven't made!

2) I thought in previous articles on the topic of Apple "cornering" the market for flash that the prices were set at the time of the order? If that is true, then the theory that Apple waits until prices drop (presumably due to the oversupply of chips because Apple over-ordered) doesn't hold up either. Apple would still be paying the previously agreed to price.
post #7 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by FJRabon View Post

In theory its not ridiculous. A single super powerful buyer could essentially dictate their terms and control the market. However, the bigger problem is that the flash makers can't have it both ways. Apple has been accused of causing a worldwide flash shortage and apple is accused of not buying enough Flash memory. Those can't both be true. Either Apple is "forcing" makers to make more than they want, and there is a surplus of flash, or they are buying more than the market can make and there is a shortage. Which is it?

Apple may be powerful, but it can't beat the basic logic of supply and demand.

Yep. Seems to me that you could be accused of causing shortages and of causing prices to go too low, but to accuse Apple of doing both is too much like complaining that the moon causes tides.
post #8 of 61
This seems to make to make no sense on many levels.
  1. A buyer is price gouging the seller. WTH!
  2. They are complaining that Apple isn’t buying as much as promised (You write up contracts to guarantee they do buy what they say they will)
  3. They are complaining that demand is more than the supply they can produce.
The complete irrational rambling of these complaints make me think Teckstud now works for Samsung.

Seriously, considering the iPhone just launched in S. Korea with what appears to be a very successful start, and that Samsung is a S. Korean company and the largest(?) cell phone supplier to S. Korean telcos this may just be a tactic to get the locals to disfavour the iPhone by making Apple look bad.
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post #9 of 61
I actually LOL'd when I read this story. So many people type it, but so few do.

This is hilarious
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post #10 of 61
Samsung and Hynix (along with Infineon) recently paid $160 million to settle a price-fixing suit (for DRAM). I guess they know a lot about price manipulation.
post #11 of 61
this is the first time i've ever heard of demand outstripping supply, yet prices fall. Unreal.
post #12 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by fulldecent View Post

I have heard of a limited number of sellers controlling a market, but a buyer controlling a market... that's ridiculous.

That's some serious naivity right there. You don't think that huge chains have massive leverage over suppliers? You don't think someone McDonalds or Walmart can put a supplier out of business simply by breaking wind? What about Amazon and publishers fo rexample.

There is quite an ongoing debate about the power of buyers to squeeze suppliers to the brink, it's not uncommon.

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post #13 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by Zoolook View Post

That's some serious naivity right there. You don't think that huge chains have massive leverage over suppliers? You don't think someone McDonalds or Walmart can put a supplier out of business simply by breaking wind? What about Amazon and publishers fo rexample.

There is quite an ongoing debate about the power of buyers to squeeze suppliers to the brink, it's not uncommon.

I can understand a company being foolish by making a bad deal or a small company getting squeezed by a larger one, but this is Samsung. There yearly revenue in 2008 was more than Apples then market cap. If a company promises to buy x amount of flash at a set price then you write that up along with penalties, such as price changes if they dont buy that much.

PS: McDonalds is quite unique among many companies in that they have many long standing contracts with large suppliers, like Coca-Cola, that are verbal agreements solidified by a handshake.
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post #14 of 61
Apple is just beginning to affect the walled-off-from-competition Korean market. You may have read about the immediate effect the iPhone introduction has had on local cell phone offerings (I think the article may have been in the Wall Street Journal).

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post #15 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by fulldecent View Post

I have heard of a limited number of sellers controlling a market, but a buyer controlling a market... that's ridiculous.

look up the words monopsony and oligopsony.
post #16 of 61
Been telling family and friends for years. The buyer has all the power. We the consumer have more power than any industry. We (as a whole nation) are stupid and don't research what we buy. When we do that we are throwing away our power. We chose what is made and what is not made. If more people were concerned about quality instead of quantity LCD tv's wouldn't be here. OS X would have a much higher market share, we wouldn't buy "American" cars just because it's "American" supporting companies that take our jobs away and build "American" cars in foreign plants. We wouldn't have a credit (how the gov keeps track of you) crunch. We wouldn't have a mortgage crisis. If people were smarter and more disciplined (live within your means) we would all be better off.

Thats's right! I have no bank accounts, no credit cards, no loans, no cars in my name. All cash all the time, ain't nobody in my business Was even thinking of de-printing my fingers.

To the point.
Apple could be like that coke dealer who buys up everything in sight, stashes it, and when the land is dry, sell it back at a higher price. I don't see anything wrong that. It's their money. But at no point would the price go down, wth!
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post #17 of 61
The Koreans are about to get their phone market handed back to them in bits by Apple. The dirty war of words begins... (see also Nokia etc...)
post #18 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by schmidm77 View Post

look up the words monopsony and oligopsony.

Neither of those terms work here. There are a lot more buyers than there are sellers of NAND. What we have a very dominate buyer affecting the price. The problem is that Samsung seems to be arguing that two opposing outcomes are happening at the same time, which dont make any sense. On top that, the fact of the matter is if remove Apple from the equation completely we have much higher priced NAND for the other buyers and we have the NAND sellers make a lot less money.

This really seems like Samsung trying to indirectly persuade the Korean people to hate on Apple and not buy the iPhone.
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post #19 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by vinney57 View Post

The Koreans are about to get their phone market handed back to them in bits by Apple. The dirty war of words begins... (see also Nokia etc...)

Spot on bro.

To the Koreans:

Instead of getting on your knees and thanking apple for making billionaires of you while actually making something useful out of your chips and selling it to the masses in millions, you complain about them being getting the best price they can?

Load your chips on ships and go sell them yourselves then to flea markets.
post #20 of 61
correct me if I'm wrong...
but the way I understand it:
Apple is ORDERING a large number of NAND chips from Korea, thus Korea PRODUCES the number of chips ordered.
Then it seems like Samsung is accusing Apple of forcing them to HOLD ON to the chips they made, exclusively for Apple, until Apple feels like buying them.

That is the only way this could work....
... and if that is really the case.... Samsung has some of the worse lawyers in the world...
and needs to hire better people to come up with their contracts.

If you put it any other way... there claims wouldn't make sense..... like
everyone else is stating.

It just sounds like the company is upset they aren't making as much money anymore
from flash memory.
post #21 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by m2002brian View Post

Thats's right! I have no bank accounts, no credit cards, no loans, no cars in my name. All cash all the time, ain't nobody in my business Was even thinking of de-printing my fingers.

No savings? No pension? Or do you have money in real-estate?
post #22 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by m2002brian View Post

Been telling family and friends for years. The buyer has all the power. We the consumer have more power than any industry. We (as a whole nation) are stupid and don't research what we buy. When we do that we are throwing away our power. We chose what is made and what is not made. If more people were concerned about quality instead of quantity LCD tv's wouldn't be here. OS X would have a much higher market share, we wouldn't buy "American" cars just because it's "American" supporting companies that take our jobs away and build "American" cars in foreign plants. We wouldn't have a credit (how the gov keeps track of you) crunch. We wouldn't have a mortgage crisis. If people were smarter and more disciplined (live within your means) we would all be better off.

Thats's right! I have no bank accounts, no credit cards, no loans, no cars in my name. All cash all the time, ain't nobody in my business Was even thinking of de-printing my fingers.

To the point.
Apple could be like that coke dealer who buys up everything in sight, stashes it, and when the land is dry, sell it back at a higher price. I don't see anything wrong that. It's their money. But at no point would the price go down, wth!

You seem to be sacrificing a lot to keep the government from harming you, yet you keep your assets in cash. You are completely at the mercy of the government, if (when) it decides to inflate the currency to reduce the proportion of its debt to the GDP. Perhaps you should buy a few gold bars or something.
post #23 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by m2002brian View Post

Been telling family and friends for years. The buyer has all the power. We the consumer have more power than any industry. We (as a whole nation) are stupid and don't research what we buy. When we do that we are throwing away our power. We chose what is made and what is not made. If more people were concerned about quality instead of quantity LCD tv's wouldn't be here. OS X would have a much higher market share, we wouldn't buy "American" cars just because it's "American" supporting companies that take our jobs away and build "American" cars in foreign plants. We wouldn't have a credit (how the gov keeps track of you) crunch. We wouldn't have a mortgage crisis. If people were smarter and more disciplined (live within your means) we would all be better off.

Thats's right! I have no bank accounts, no credit cards, no loans, no cars in my name. All cash all the time, ain't nobody in my business Was even thinking of de-printing my fingers.

To the point.
Apple could be like that coke dealer who buys up everything in sight, stashes it, and when the land is dry, sell it back at a higher price. I don't see anything wrong that. It's their money. But at no point would the price go down, wth!

I'm sorry, but was any of that ramble 'to the point'? Apple doesn't sell flash memory.
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post #24 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by m2002brian View Post

Been telling family and friends for years. The buyer has all the power. We the consumer have more power than any industry. We (as a whole nation) are stupid and don't research what we buy. When we do that we are throwing away our power. We chose what is made and what is not made. If more people were concerned about quality instead of quantity LCD tv's wouldn't be here. OS X would have a much higher market share, we wouldn't buy "American" cars just because it's "American" supporting companies that take our jobs away and build "American" cars in foreign plants. We wouldn't have a credit (how the gov keeps track of you) crunch. We wouldn't have a mortgage crisis. If people were smarter and more disciplined (live within your means) we would all be better off.

While I can't agree with the deleted paragraphs, what is quoted above needs to be read by everybody on this forum. Especially the the point about the credit crunch as that was as much a cultural problem as it was a political or policy related one. There is way to much hurd mentality in America and much of that involves looking at a home as an investment rather than a place to live. People would do far better valuing a home as a place to live or a car as transportation.

Dave
post #25 of 61
This article makes no sense on different levels.

(i) The initial claim is that Apple buys less than it orders, thereby creating excess chipmaker inventory leading to a price fall as they are forced to offload the stuff in the market. Even if true, don't these guys realize that the market outcome would be the same if Apple bought everything it ordered regardless of need: Apple would then be the one forced to offload the excess inventory, thereby creating the same price effect.

(ii) The article then goes on to say (Para #6) that Apple's purchases are creating a shortage -- i.e., it seems to wants to buy more than it orders. As many have pointed out, that should increase, not decrease market prices! In any event, both claims can't simultaneously be true.
post #26 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post

While I can't agree with the deleted paragraphs, what is quoted above needs to be read by everybody on this forum. Especially the the point about the credit crunch as that was as much a cultural problem as it was a political or policy related one. There is way to much hurd mentality in America and much of that involves looking at a home as an investment rather than a place to live. People would do far better valuing a home as a place to live or a car as transportation.

Dave

I'm sorry, but the folks in this forum, are probably Mac users (minus the trolls). We do our market research. We know a good product. We are not part of the 'hurd' (sp). If we were, we'd be PC owners.

I don't see what any of this has to do with the topic however. Speak for yourself. My credit score is just fine.
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post #27 of 61
...the writer of the story is of the Enderle variety and couldn't make a rational argument if he tried, and is just sucking up to the big dogs, Samsung and Hynix, in the industry. I have read that there have been alot of negative stories about Apple in Korea prior to the iPhone launch, so perhaps someone is just being paid to astroturf.
post #28 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by m2002brian View Post

If people were smarter and more disciplined (live within your means) we would all be better off.

Thats's right! I have no bank accounts, no credit cards, no loans, no cars in my name. All cash all the time, ain't nobody in my business Was even thinking of de-printing my fingers.


Nothing to do with the topic... but, you may be the smartest one here.

If you indeed do own a bunch of gold, then you are King.


Congratulations

Oh, and credit scores don't mean a friggin thing when they are a moving target. Just another contrived figure that can be changed at a whim - and is.
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post #29 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by fulldecent View Post

I have heard of a limited number of sellers controlling a market, but a buyer controlling a market... that's ridiculous.

You might have never heard of it but anyone who has taken econ 101 has. It's called monopsony and as an apple shareholder I would expect nothing less than what they're doing.
post #30 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

Neither of those terms work here. There are a lot more buyers than there are sellers of NAND. What we have a very dominate buyer affecting the price. The problem is that Samsung seems to be arguing that two opposing outcomes are happening at the same time, which dont make any sense. On top that, the fact of the matter is if remove Apple from the equation completely we have much higher priced NAND for the other buyers and we have the NAND sellers make a lot less money.

This really seems like Samsung trying to indirectly persuade the Korean people to hate on Apple and not buy the iPhone.

While I wouldn't the validity of the comments made in the article (as they are completely incompatible), the situation described is actually a form of Monopsony, or at least very close to it. While there may be many buyers of NAND, if Apple comes close to 90% or even 80% of all use, they will have power to dictate terms to the seller. While you could say Samsung simply would stop selling to Apple, Samsung would then have its revenue suddenly cut down by a major factor - making that decision completely out of the question. In truth I think it's possible that Apple may very well be a Monopsony of NAND memory, the problem comes that there are very very few options to remedy the situation. You can't break them up, as you would with a monopoly (there are no monopsony laws), but at the same time it would be anti-competitive to give incentives / bonuses to other NAND buyers. It's a pretty tricky question.
post #31 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ronbo View Post

Yep. Seems to me that you could be accused of causing shortages and of causing prices to go too low, but to accuse Apple of doing both is too much like complaining that the moon causes tides.

A lot of people are saying the same thing--Apple cannot be causing both an oversupply and an undersupply. It doesn't seem so impossible to me. In fact, I quoted your post because I like the moon analogy. The moon is responsible for both causing high tides and low tides. At first it might seem counter intuitive that the moon could do both, but clearly it does.


[NOTE: I do not have any inside information on Apple's contracts or how they work with their suppliers, so this is all just possibility. I am just postulating on what the complaint could be.]

Apple talks to a NAND flash supplier and says: "you want us to buy your product, you have to be able to provide up to X amount in the 3rd quarter for not more than $Y ammount per unit. If we cannot count on you to have what we may need, we will not do buisness with you."
The supplier aggrees, because Apple is too big to turn away. The supplier then has to refuse orders from some smaller players to make sure that they have the supply that Apple may need in that quarter. This causes a shortage and an increase in the prices for NAND flash on the open market--this is not a problem for Apple because they have an agreed price ceiling and guarenteed supply but it hurts compeditors who cannot command such deals and now have to pay more than Apple for the same memory.
Later on in Q3 Apple tells said supplier: "we are selling below projections, we will not need X amount after all." Now the NAND supplier has to unload all the NAND flash they had been stockpiling and this floods the market causing a significant price drop. When Apple starts buying again it is at the new, lower price and they can lock in new long term agreements with favorable prices.

If Apple plays its cards right, they are never buying at the "shortage prices" because it was their locking in a big contracts that causes the shortages later on. Other end users of NAND flash have to deal with the fluctuations which makes it harder to compete against Apple.
That being said, I doubt it would be in any way illegal what Apple is doing (unless, perhaps, they could prove that Apple was intentionally overstating their needs to affect the market). And as long as they are the biggest player in the market, none of the suppliers can afford to go against Apple. If they DID band together to keep Apple from being able to dominate the market then THAT would be illegal price fixing...
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post #32 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jarina View Post

While I wouldn't the validity of the comments made in the article (as they are completely incompatible), the situation described is actually a form of Monopsony, or at least very close to it. While there may be many buyers of NAND, if Apple comes close to 90% or even 80% of all use, they will have power to dictate terms to the seller.

I’d actually use a new term—that I just made up—to refer to Apple’s position in the NAND market. A monopoly is a company or group having exclusive or excessive control over a commodity or service. While NAND is not in and of itself a commodity in the traditional sense it is merely a component in a larger, more system. I’d call this a 2nd-Tier Monopoly since we are primary talking about Apple’s market position being able to control the price of NAND, as a commodity, for everyone else.
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post #33 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by BuzDots View Post

Nothing to do with the topic... but, you may be the smartest one here.

If you indeed do own a bunch of gold, then you are King.


Congratulations

Oh, and credit scores don't mean a friggin thing when they are a moving target. Just another contrived figure that can be changed at a whim - and is.

I was relating credit to the tracking of individuals. As they are scanned at point of sale, giving location or used online for product to be delivered, also giving location. It's an invasion of privacy. Credit companies sell the data use to other companies. As in age and product info. What you buy and where you are is being tracked. Google is another company I would want nothing to do with.
what I don't understand is people who buys things they can wait for. I see it all the time on here. Someone had one month, ONE MONTH, or 30 days left on a Verizon contract and they CANCELED it to get an iPhone. What an idiot, and I'm serious. 30 fricken days out like 23725 days of their life, and they could wait. And they want to complain about a cancellation fee???
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post #34 of 61
Off topic rant:

Why the heck do people keep dragging political crap into these comments when they have NOTHING to do with the topic of the article? I've seen it time and again in these comments.

PLEASE! Keep your political opinions out of nonpolitical topics!
post #35 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by cameronj View Post

You might have never heard of it but anyone who has taken econ 101 has. It's called monopsony and as an apple shareholder I would expect nothing less than what they're doing.

It's not monopsony because there are more than one buyer. In fact, there are hundreds of buyers. Again, as many people have remarked here, you cannot have a situation where Apple is at the same time responsible for creating a shortage by buying so much that there isn't enough left for anybody else at competing prices (which would drive the price up) and a glut by not buying as much as they said they would (which would drive the price down) and make it possible for everybody else to buy at lower prices, hurting the suppliers.

By the way taking econ 101 is not an sign of enlightenment. I am sure all the bankers and politicians and CEOs who drove this economy into the gutter have taken econ 101. I can tell you this system does not work based on the principals taught in that class.
post #36 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bageljoey View Post

Later on in Q3 Apple tells said supplier: "we are selling below projections, we will not need X amount after all." Now the NAND supplier has to unload all the NAND flash they had been stockpiling and this floods the market causing a significant price drop. When Apple starts buying again it is at the new, lower price and they can lock in new long term agreements with favorable prices.

When Apple starts buying again and in large volumes the prices should go up quickly, especially since now they have no guarantee that supplies they want will be available again.

The second point is that NAND producers can stipulate to provide the price ceiling in return to a purchase quantity floor.
post #37 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by Leonard View Post

No savings? No pension? Or do you have money in real-estate?

let's just say yes and no. I was born Lucky

I like how someone said something about being at the gov's whim. Aren't we "the people" supposed to be "the gov"

And about apple not selling NAND. It was a drug selling analogy. IF Apple were to be doing such. It would then be on topic. BUT since you or I don't know whether or not Apple sells overstocked NAND. You have no right to say it's off topic till I'm proven wrong :P  bought PA Semi, quietly, recently bought a MAP company, quietly. Since they aren't nand producers, distributors, or suppliers, I'm guessing if they were to sell it wouldn't involve any press or shareholder news.
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post #38 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by PersonMan View Post

Off topic rant:

Why the heck do people keep dragging political crap into these comments when they have NOTHING to do with the topic of the article? I've seen it time and again in these comments.

PLEASE! Keep your political opinions out of nonpolitical topics!

Do you work for the fed? Are you scared of others opinions? Do you think politics has nothing to do with industry? Can have some too?
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post #39 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by fulldecent View Post

I have heard of a limited number of sellers controlling a market, but a buyer controlling a market... that's ridiculous.

Ever heard of Walmart?
While a buyer can bully sellers when they have certain advantages (like Walmart) that clearly does not seem to be the case here. For God's sake, Apple's buying several years worth and paying in advance! Very different from the Walmart model.
post #40 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by m2002brian View Post

If more people were concerned about quality instead of quantity LCD tv's wouldn't be here.

Perhaps buyers are also concerned about TCO, the environment, and energy usage as well as "quality." (My LCD TV was and still is a huge improvement over my previous Standard Res CRT TV. Came WAY cheaper than the plasma TV's available at the time, uses less energy and is longer lasting.)
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