Tech war: US-blacklisted YMTC, China’s top memory chip maker, sees improved global market demand in 2023 as push for innovation continues

China’s top memory chip maker Yangtze Memory Technologies Co (YMTC), which was added to the US trade blacklist last December, is seeing improved global demand this year for NAND Flash memory products, as the company continues its push for innovation.

That development was revealed by Cheng Weihua, chief operating officer of YMTC, in his speech on Thursday at the annual China Flash Market Summit held in Shenzhen, which was also attended by delegates from major chip makers including Samsung Electronics, Intel and Micron Technology.

In spite of US trade sanctions, Cheng said YMTC will continue to push for “technological innovation, global coordination, business diversification and local talent development”, according to a summary of his speech published by Chinese semiconductor industry news portal Ijiewei.

He told the forum that supply and demand in the global NAND Flash market will reach a balance in the second half of this year, primarily on the back of orders from makers of smartphones, servers and personal computers.

NAND Flash is a type of non-volatile storage technology that retains data even without power, which has made it ideal for many electronics devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptop computers and solid-state drives.

The speech by Cheng, recognised as a key figure behind YMTC’s 3D NAND Flash memory technology development, offered a first impression from a senior executive of the current business prospects for the privately-held chip maker since it was added to the US government’s Entity List.

Based in Wuhan, capital of central Hubei province, YMTC recently received a US$49 billion yuan (US$7.2 billion) capital injection from state-backed investors, which more than doubled the firm’s registered capital to about 105 billion yuan, according to data from Chinese business registry platform Tianyancha.

Before that capital boost, the company was said to have slashed up to up to 70 per cent of its orders from Naura Technology , a Chinese maker of etching, cleaning and chemical vapour deposition tools for wafer fabs, according to a South China Morning Post report last month that cited a source familiar with the matter.

YMTC had been hit hard by export controls on chip-making machinery, imposed by the US Commerce Department last October, which aim to cap China’s logic semiconductor production at the 14-nanometre node process, and DRAM and NAND flash at 18-nm and 128 layers, respectively.

In January, the company was said to be laying off as much as 10 per cent of its nearly 6,000 workforce, the Post reported last month.

Since the second quarter of 2022, the global NAND Flash market has faced slowing demand, according to research company TrendForce. That led to prices dropping by up to 25 per cent, as manufacturing supply chains scrambled to clear inventory.

Founded in 2016, YMTC was a latecomer to the NAND Flash industry, but it raced ahead to become a company in the market. A TechInsights report in December credited YMTC with producing “232-layer NAND Flash, ahead of its rivals”, including Samsung, SK Hynix and Micron.