LCD TV Panel Prices Keep Going Up
Continuing strong demand for LCD products coupled with increasing concerns about shortages in key components have driven LCD TV panel prices to significant increases in Q1, and prices show no signs of slowing down in Q2. The widespread problems in the supply of Display Driver ICs (DDICs) and the recent announcement by Corning that glass prices will increase, add to the general logistics problems to create an atmosphere where price increases appear to be not only accepted but expected.
In our last update, midway through Q1, we anticipated that price increases would decelerate from Q4 levels, and while this has happened, it is more like a tap on the brakes than a real slowdown. Panel prices increased more than 20% for selected TV sizes in Q3 2020 compared to Q2, and by 27% in Q4 2020 compared to Q3, and our current estimate is that average LCD TV panel prices in Q1 2021 increased by another 14.5%. Our outlook for Q2 2021, is for prices to increase another 12%.
The first chart shows our latest TV panel price update, with prices increasing across the board from a low in May 2020 to a high point in June of this year which may or may not represent a peak. The inflection point for this cycle, the month of the biggest M/M price increases, was passed in September 2020 and the price increases have been slower since then, but after slowing in January to an average of 4.1%, the price increases accelerated in March to 5.4%. Prices in March 2021 reached levels last seen in December 2017.
Prices increased in Q1 2021 for all sizes of TV panels, with double-digit percentage increases in sizes from 32” to 65” ranging from 12% to 18%. Prices for 75” increased by 7% as capacity has continued to increase on Gen 10.5 lines, where 75” is an efficient 6-cut.
Prices for every size of TV panel will continue to increase in Q2 at a similar rate, ranging from 8% for 75” to 15% for 32”, and although we now expect that prices will peak in June or July and will start to decline in Q3, the situation remains fluid.
LCD TV Panel Prices January 2020 – June 2021
The current upturn in the Crystal Cycle has seen the biggest trough-to-peak price increases for LCD TV panels, and the recent acceleration of prices has further extended this record. Comparing our forecast for June 2021 panel prices, when we expect prices to peak, with the prices in May 2020, we see trough-to-peak increases from 27% for 75” to 156% for 32”, with an average of 100%. In comparison, the average trough-to-peak increase of the 2016 to 2017 cycle was 48%, and prior cycles saw smaller increases.
Before the current upswing, the largest panels sold with an area premium, but the current cycle has flipped that upside down, as shown in the next chart. Whereas in May 2020, 75” panels sold at an area premium of $77 per square meter higher than the 32” panel price, as of March 2021 they sold at a $40 discount on an area basis. This means that those Gen 10.5 fabs could earn higher revenues from making 32” panels than from 75” panels. The pattern for 65” is even more severe, and 65” now is the lowest-priced size on an area basis, selling at a $51 per square meter discount (alternately, a 19% area discount) compared to 32”.
Monthly Area Prices per Square Meter for TV Panels, October 2016 – June 2021
The improved pricing for LCD TV panels will boost the profitability of panel makers, especially the two prominent Taiwanese players and LG Display, who have Gen 7.5 and Gen 8.5 fabs but no Gen 10.5 fabs. Chinese panel makers HKC and CEC Panda have a similar industrial profile and stand to benefit, while the leading companies with Gen 10.5 fabs (BOE, CSOT, and Foxconn/Sharp) stand to benefit less, because the price increases on the largest sizes are more modest.
The last chart here shows our TV price index, set to 100 for prices in January 2014, and the Y/Y change of LCD TV panel prices. Our index has increased from its all-time low of 42.0 in May 2020 to 77 in March, and we expect it to reach 84.1 in June before declining in the second half of 2021. The Y/Y increase reaches nearly 100% in May 2021 and will remain at elevated levels throughout the second half of 2021.
TV Panel Price Index and Y/Y Change, January 2015 – June 2021
In addition to being an exceptionally large upcycle, the current upswing matches some of the longest stretches of increasing prices ever seen, a full year from trough to peak. The length of the upswing can be attributed to several factors: glass and driver IC shortages, the pandemic-driven demand or the potential for Korean fab downsizing.
Based on their most recent financial reports, TV makers continued to make strong profits in Q4 2020 despite increasing panel prices. The TV market typically slows down in Q1 and Q2, and TV maker profits typically decline as well. As we noted in our last update, a shift in the retail environment caused by the pandemic may have helped: in-store sales have declined sharply during the pandemic, while online sales have increased. The shift online may have helped TV brands reduce promotional expenses, allowing for greater profitability despite the panel price increases.
For three years, from 2017 to 2020, LCD panel makers suffered through a continuous pattern of price declines interrupted only with brief respites. With the COVID-19 demand surge assisted by shortages in glass and DDICs, panel prices are spiking. We saw Korean and Taiwanese panel makers reporting robust margins in Q4 2020 and we expect the good news for panel makers to get even better when those companies report Q1 2021 results.