Thailand Flooding Could Impact Global HDD Production Until Spring 2012

Much of the specialist machinery required for HDD industry to switch production sites is under water and cannot be accessed via flooded roads. SSD market won't be impacted in the short run.

Mother Nature is putting some cruel pressures on the hard disk drive industry, not to mention the overall IT business and most of Southeast Asia, with record rainstorms and flooding in Thailand-a region that assembles about 70 percent of the world's HDDs.

The small nation's infrastructure is stymied in all sectors by slowly rising floodwaters that began several weeks ago in an early monsoon season (photo of Bangkok below credited to Wikipedia).

Western Digital, the world's No. 1-selling HDD producer with 40 percent of the global market, obtains about 60 percent of its inventory from its factories in Thailand. However, the Irvine, Calif.-based company said Nov. 3 that it has shut down those facilities and is unsure as to when it will be able to reopen them.

WD said it will ship less than half the HDDs it had expected to supply for the remainder of the year. It is possible that the curtailed shipments will continue into spring 2012, WD added.

Factories to Be Closed at Least Two Months

Iain Bowles, an executive at Probrand Ltd, a large supplier of branded computer products (which include Seagate, the world's No. 2 HDD maker with 38 percent of the market), said Nov. 3 that the supply of HDDs will soon hit rock bottom because the area factories are expected to be out of action for at least 56 days.

The flooding disaster will hit the world IT supply chain harder than the March 2011 Japanese tsunami, Bowles predicted. As a result, he said, there are likely to be massive shortages of the IT-cornerstone product in the first quarter of 2012.

"At the start of the floods in Bangkok, the IT industry had four weeks or 28 days of finished disk drive stock in the supply chain," Bowles said. "If the rains stop today, it will be a minimum of 56 days before production can restart. Thai authorities have said it will take two to four weeks to pump out flooded areas and that is even before any actual cleanup can start."

In comparison, Bowles said, when the tsunami struck, component stock in the supply chain sat at over 80 days, enabling recovery time before stock would become depleted. Stock levels in the supply chain act as a cushion for supply continuity, but in this case, the HDD stock "buffer" of finished products is simply too small given that most plants will remain under dirty water for some time yet.

Global Demand for HDDs Still Growing

Global demand for HDDs continues to grow. Last quarter the market sold 177 million units, or about 59 million units per month, and is forecast to reach 180 million next quarter. However, the impact of the floods is expected to cause a 20 million-unit shortfall over demand per month.

"As a direct result, prices could rise by up to 25 percent for hard disks, and this will impact finished products down the line as well," Bowles said.

Disruption is being seen at all the key HDD producers, which also include Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, Toshiba/Fujitsu and Samsung Electronics. Apple, Sony and Toshiba have all confirmed they believe HDD shortages will prevail.

"Thailand does not have the same culture or infrastructure as Japan, so recovery may be slower than post-tsunami," Bowles said.

"For manufacturers, I suspect we will see attempts to move production to other geographies such as Malaysia. However, much of the specialist machinery required to switch production sites is under water and cannot be accessed via flooded roads. This truly is another very testing time for the global ICT supply chain, and business needs to be prepared for HDD shortages."

Taiwan-based netbook maker Asustek told Reuters that it has HDD inventory that will last only until the end of November.

"Substitutes for HDDs are very few, so if the situation persists, not only notebook production will be affected but also desktops, and other component shipments will also drop," Asustek CFO David Chang told the wire service.

Little Impact on SSD Market-for Now

The crimp in the HDD market isn't expected to noticeably bump up the demand for its main competitor, solid-state drives, in the world marketplace, according to one industry analyst.

DRAMexchange, a division of TrendForce, said Nov. 1 that it does expect the floods will lead to a temporary interest in SSDs, driving some increase in sales of NAND flash, but not enough to offset restocking of NAND components by original equipment manufacturers.

DRAMexchange said that SSD parts pricing won't be affected, either, and it expects the contract price of mainstream NAND parts to decline in November and December after declining by 4 to 8 percent in the second half of October.

If the HDD inventory shortages created by the Thai floods continue into Q1 of 2012, the number of SSD-equipped PC models may increase, DRAMexchange said. But the firm also said it believes the extent of the effect on the NAND flash market will depend on the level of consumer acceptance.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...