China has increased the pressure it's applying to the world's largest DRAM suppliers. The country has reportedly claimed that its antitrust probe into Samsung, SK Hynix and Micron has made "important progress" since it started in June. This investigation mostly revolves around rising DRAM prices caused by shortages, but it's also just the latest in China's efforts to help its own companies compete with their international counterparts.
The Financial Times reported that Wu Zhenguo, the head of China's anti-monopoly bureau, said "the anti-monopoly investigation into these three companies has made important progress" and "yielded massive evidence." It's not clear what exactly the Chinese government has on the companies, or what it plans to do as the investigation moves forward. Odds are good, though, that it will continue to support homegrown companies.
The investigation purportedly started in June after DRAM prices skyrocketed following global shortages. Yet now prices are expected to fall: DRAMeXchange said in September that a 5 percent price decline was possible within the year, and Samsung has even slowed its production in an effort to reduce supply and keep prices stable. Consumer worries about DRAM pricing may have abated, or at least started to, but China's haven't.
This also isn't the only way China's targeted foreign DRAM producers in recent months. The country's also involved in a back-and-forth with Micron (and by extension the United States) and local companies such as the Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Company. China blocked Micron from selling certain products in its country earlier this year, and in October, the U.S. Department of Commerce blocked American exports to Fujian Jinhua.
Now the countries have added the DRAM market to their list of things to squabble over as part of a looming trade war. Micron's inclusion in this anti-monopoly investigation merely represents the company's latest woes in China.
SK Securities analyst Kim Young-woo told the Financial Times that China could impose fines up to $2.5 billion on Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron as the result of this investigation. That would likely incentivize the companies to work with their Chinese counterparts, he said, rather than competing against them. That might be good for consumers — it's about DRAM time prices fell — but we suspect the companies themselves wouldn't be pleased.