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Thai floods catapult Seagate into hard drive market lead

Drive prices expected to remain high through 2012 as flood effects continue

Monsoonal flooding in Thailand last year helped Seagate Technology recapture the worldwide lead in hard disk drive shipments in the last quarter of 2011, according to a new report from IHS iSuppli.

Seagate passed former market leader Western Digital Corp., which suffered heavy losses in the devastating Thailand floods last year. Seagate claimed 38% of HDD market share, compared with Western Digital's 23%, according to the iSuppli report released today.

Toshiba claimed 16% of HDD units shipping worldwide in the fourth quarter, followed by Hitachi GST with 14% and Samsung with 9%.

"Seagate owes its return to market leadership to a fortuitous accident in geography: Its HDD manufacturing plant in Thailand is located on high ground," IHS iSuppli analyst Fang Zhang said in a statement. "As a result, the company was less impacted by the October floods -- the most destructive in the last 50 years for the Southeast Asian country."

Both Seagate and Western Digital are engaging in mergers, Seagate with Samsung and Western Digital with Hitachi GST , which will only increase the intensity of the rivalry between the companies.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, Seagate shipped 46.9 million HDD units worldwide, compared to 28.5 million for archrival Western Digital, according to a report authored by Zhang.

Unlike Western Digital, which according to estimates saw about 75% of its production temporarily shut down, Seagate suffered relatively minimally.

"This reversal catapulted Seagate back to the top of the HDD market -- a distinction it hasn't claimed in at least two years," iSuppli stated.

While hard drive supplies have begun to recover , the impact of the Thai floods on hard drive supplies are expected to continue through 2012, according to several research groups.

In the last quarter of 2011, all five major HDD manufacturers shipped significantly fewer HDDs, down 30% from the previous quarter -- 123.3 million units in the fourth quarter compared with 175.2 million units in the third quarter.

Both Seagate and Western Digital saw their gross margins rise to record highs in the fourth quarter, due to across-the-board drive price increases in the wake of the flood-related shortages, said iSuppli.

Seagate's average drive selling price surged from $55 in the third quarter to $68 in the fourth quarter of 2011 a strong 24% increase, according to iSuppli. Western Digital's average drive sales price shot up $69, up from $46, during the same period.

Seagate, which tends to offer higher margin products, continues to hold its longstanding status as market revenue leader, "a lock on the space that Western Digital has not been able to pry free," iSuppli stated.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian , or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com .

Read more about storage hardware in Computerworld's Storage Hardware Topic Center.


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