LCD TV Panel Prices Keep Going Up with No End in Sight
Strong demand for LCD products combined with concerns about shortages in key components have driven LCD TV panel prices to their most significant increases ever on a percentage basis, and prices show no signs of slowing down in Q2.
In our last update in early April, we anticipated that price increases would decelerate in Q2, but we now see price increases accelerating compared to Q1. Panel prices increased by 27% in Q4 2020 compared to Q3 and slowed down to 14.5% in Q1 2021 compared to Q4, but our current estimate is that average LCD TV panel prices in Q2 2021 will increase by another 17%. We now expect prices to peak sometime in Q3 2021.
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 does not represent the peak. We have now seen multiple inflection points for this cycle: the first inflection point, the month of the biggest M/M price increases, was passed in September 2020, and the price increase slowed down, then started to accelerate again in January 2021, and we see another slowdown starting in May 2021. Prices in May 2021 have reached levels last seen in July 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 8% 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 an even faster rate, ranging from 12% for 75” to 24% for 32”. We now expect prices to continue to increase in Q3.
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 with the prices in May 2020, we see trough-to-peak increases from 34% for 75” to 181% for 32”, with an average of 111%. 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 May 2021, they are selling at a $65 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” is now selling at a $69 per square meter discount (alternately, a 22% 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 has already improved the profitability of panel makers. It will continue to drive their profits even higher, especially the two prominent Taiwanese players, who have Gen 7.5 and Gen 8.5 fabs but no Gen 10.5 fabs. Chinese panel makers HKC and CHOT have a similar industrial profile and stand to benefit greatly as well. 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, but every LCD panel maker is doing well.
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 87 in May 2021, and we expect it to reach 89 in June and over 90 in Q3 2021 before declining in Q4. The Y/Y increase has surpassed 100% in May 2021. It 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, more than 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 Q1 2021 despite increasing panel prices. The TV market typically slows down in Q1 and Q2. TV maker revenues declined seasonally in Q1 but less than usual, and the operating margins for both Samsung and LGE increased sequentially. Samsung’s CE division operating profits exceeded $1B for the quarter for only the second time ever. With demand remaining strong, TV makers have weathered the increase in panel prices and remained very profitable.
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 have seen Korean, Taiwanese and Chinese panel makers reporting robust margins in Q1 2021 and we expect the good news for panel makers to get even better in Q2.