A major consolidation of the flash-memory market may be in the works. Samsung, the world's largest memory manufacturer, says it may make an offer for SanDisk, which makes flash-memory chips. SanDisk is valued at $3.2 billion.
The flash-memory space has been under extreme pressure with prices falling. The deal would allow Samsung to eliminate its costs to license SanDisk technology.
"We are looking at various opportunities regarding SanDisk, but nothing has been decided yet," Samsung spokesperson James Chung said in response to rumors.
Samsung also identified an acquisition of SanDisk as a possibility in a regulatory filing. SanDisk shares spiked up 24 percent on Friday.
Defeat for Toshiba
If the purchase goes forward, it could be a major strategic defeat for Samsung competitor Toshiba, analysts said. Toshiba is planning to double its flash-chip production in a partnership with SanDisk, so Samsung's acquisition could squeeze Toshiba, which trails Samsung.
"Samsung buying SanDisk would mean big damage for Toshiba," Yoshihisa Toyosaki, the head of technology analyst firm J-Star, told Reuters.
Samsung pays SanDisk more than $350 million a year in licensing fees and is reportedly looking to reduce that cost through the acquisition.
"Although SanDisk and Toshiba are partners, there are doubts as to whether SanDisk will continue to invest" in the joint venture, James Song, an analyst at Daewoo Securities, told Reuters. "So in the medium- to long-term, Samsung would be able to gain more control over the flash market."
In addition, Samsung would take advantage of SanDisk's marketing presence to build its reputation in flash memory. "Toshiba is trying to take business and market share away from Samsung. Samsung could suppress this by taking control of SanDisk and gaining access to its basic patents," Toyosaki said.
But such a move could face strict antitrust scrutiny. C.W. Chung, an analyst at Lehman Brothers, said it's not clear that the deal would pass such scrutiny. The early press coverage could also impact the deal.
Still, Chung said in a research note, the extent of Samsung's royalty payments means the deal is worth doing solely to save those costs. "As SanDisk's market cap is just around $3 billion, we believe this reason itself could serve as an acquisition merit for Samsung," he wrote.
And the a deal could herald the bottom of the long-declining flash market, Chung said. "If Samsung succeeds in acquiring SanDisk at a reasonable price, we believe this will be positive for both the overall memory market as well as for Samsung Electronics. We may take this type of M&A activity as a signal of nearing the memory bottom, as industry consolidation is typical of previous bottoms for the memory market," he wrote.