SanDisk Corporation (NYSE: SNDK) is one of the world's largest suppliers of flash (or NAND) memory data storage products. A pioneer in NAND technologies, SanDisk holds many key patents and derived about 11.6% of 2009 revenue from licensing to other flash memory manufacturers. The company serves both retail consumers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), with each accounting for about half of total revenues in 2009.
The market for NAND memory is also correlated with that of DRAM (a different type of memory used in PCs) because several major memory companies, including NAND leader Samsung, fabricate both kinds interchangeably. In times of excess DRAM supply, for instance, memory makers often shift their manufacturing capabilities to NAND and vice versa. As a company dependent on primarily NAND, SanDisk has greater exposure to the cyclicality of that particular market.
Flash memory—-both removable cards and internal types-—is used widely in cell phones, digital cameras, media players and in “thumb” drives. As a result, the fortunes of the company are closely tied to the popularity of such devices and consumers’ demand to store their pictures, video, songs and other digital media.
One notable device is Apple’s iPod, to which SanDisk’s fortunes are inextricably tied. SanDisk’s own branded media player, the Sansa, is a distant second to the iPod in terms of head-on market share for media players (more than 70% versus less than 10%). However, SanDisk and the rest of the flash market are influenced by the large success of the iPod, which drives a large portion of overall demand for NAND. When new generations of Apple iPods or iPhone need flash memory parts, SanDisk and other NAND providers profit from the rise in overall demand and prices.
SanDisk unveiled the flash based Vaulter Disk - a device that enables faster launching and loading of software on laptops and on personal computers. SanDisk envisions the Vaulter as a unique data storage solution, a compromise between the full and expensive solid state drives (SSDs) and the conventional hard drives, which are considered by many experts to be the bottleneck of modern computing. It is yet to be seen whether the Vaulter will gain popularity, something which did not happen for similar devices, such as the Samsung hybrid hard drive (a device combining flash memory and a mechanical disk).
Dr. Eli Harari, one of the world's authorities on computer memory at the time, founded SanDisk in 1988. Since then, it has become a world leader in flash memory, a non-volatile computer memory type that can retain its stored contents without a power source. In addition to its non-volatile nature, flash memory became extremely popular because it enables the storage of large amounts of data in very compact units. Today, flash memory is used in a wide array of devices including cell phones, MP3 players (including many iPods), cameras, video games and as standalone "thumb" drives.
SanDisk has become one of the world's largest suppliers of flash memory data storage, with total revenue of $5.66 billion in 2011.
In 2009, SNDK's net income rose to $415 million after a $1.99 billion loss in 2008. Although license and royalty revenues dropped 23.2% from 2008, a 9.8% increase in product revenues allowed the company to regain profitability. In addition, SanDisk slashed expenses in research & development, sales & marketing, and general & administrative costs to recover from its significant loss in 2008 - on the whole, total operating expenses were cut by 62.4% from $2.04 billion in 2008 to $765.3 million in 2009.
SanDisk operates in only one reportable segment called "flash memory storage products." In 2009, real product sales accounted for $3.15 billion while license and royalty revenues totaled $412.5 million. The company serves both retail consumers and original equipment manufacturers called "OEMs." Retail revenues were down 14% to $1.57 billion in 2009 while OEM revenues rose 54% to $1.59 billion.
Several of SanDisk's major competitors manufacture both flash memory (or NAND) as well as dynamic random access memory (DRAM, a volatile memory used in PCs), because of the relative ease of switching fabrication processes. As a result, DRAM and NAND memory markets have related cyclicality due to dynamics in overall supply production and customer demand. In times of excess DRAM supply, for example, memory makers often shift their manufacturing capacity to create NAND memory (as seen in 2005) and vice versa (as seen in 2006) thus minimizing the industry swings. Unfortunately for SanDisk, memory producers often create detrimental oversupply in the market and drive prices to dangerously low levels. This oversupply occurs because when facilities have become extremely expensive and memory companies produce at near maximum output to recoup the large fixed costs of building the facilities. Because SanDisk manufactures primarily NAND flash memory, they have greater exposure to the cyclicality of that particular market.
A majority of SanDisk's revenue comes from sales of flash memory products for devices, including digital cameras, mobile phones, portable media players and video game systems. Subsequently, the success of these devices is integral to SanDisk's business. Also there is a growing trend of converging these devices into one as seen with the IPhone. In these convergent devices, making sure the device has a minimal power supply is very important considering how easy it is for all those features to suck down the power. Solid state drives, in which SanDisk is the leader, have low power requirements compared to rival technology such as hard drives, and are ideal for these types of devices.
Despite its Sansa venture, SanDisk has little influence on the markets for these devices and is at the mercy of consumer device trends. On the positive side, many of SanDisk's removable memory formats work across a variety of devices, in effect creating a buffer against most particular devices or platforms.
One possible boon for SanDisk's NAND business is the potential for traditional magnetic hard disk drives (HDDs) to be replaced by flash memory. Flash is faster and uses ten times less energy. The price per unit memory is much higher for NAND memory, but as the two storage technologies come close to price parity, HDD loses its price advantage. SanDisk would then be in a position to take share from companies that focus exclusively on hard drive production, including Western Digital (WDC) and Seagate Technology Holdings (STX).
SanDisk has a give and take relationship with the category-leading iPod. Apple's dominance in the media player market means that all flash memory manufacturers are at the mercy of iPod's success. On one hand, SanDisk has taken the iPod head on with its Sansa offering - in effect, removing itself as a potential OEM supplier to Apple. However, Apple's demand drives the overall market price for flash memory, and SanDisk actually benefits from the success of the iPod and iPhone.
The flash memory industry is very volatile. Firms producing one kind of memory often enter and exit the industry due to market trends and cycles. Perhaps more importantly, the competitive environment has driven increasing consolidation and complex dynamics between competing firms: