Micron receives subpoena in DOJ DRAM probe

Micron Technology Inc. confirmed late Tuesday that it has received a subpoena to provide information to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) antitrust division as part of an industry-wide investigation into alleged anticompetitive practices among computer DRAM (dynamic RAM) makers, and according to the online edition of Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, the U.S. sales unit of Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. also has been subpoenaed.

Infineon Technologies AG in Munich was contacted by the DOJ, but has not been subpoenaed, and will cooperate with the department, a spokesman there said Wednesday.

Micron received the subpoena on Monday from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The company intends to cooperate fully with the investigation, it said in a brief statement. Micron, based in Boise, Idaho, is the largest manufacturer of DRAM chips in the U.S.

“Micron does not believe it has violated U.S. antitrust laws. The DRAM business is highly competitive and subject to extreme volatility. Competitive forces in today’s market have led to DRAM prices reaching unprecedented lows,” Kipp Bedard, vice president of corporate affairs was quoted as saying in the statement.

The company could not be immediately reached for direct comment. No one at Samsung Electronics’ U.S. office in California was available to comment. A DOJ spokeswoman confirmed that the department’s antitrust division is conducting an industry wide investigation, but said that she could not comment on which companies are involved in the investigation.

The price of DRAM chips, commonly used as the main memory in desktop and notebook computers, is always changing and in the third quarter of 2000 began a gradual decline from around US$9 per 128M byte chip to hit an all-time low of $1.50 per chip in the third quarter of last year.

At that price, manufacturers were losing money on each chip they sold, analysts and some memory makers said. However, the manufacturers stayed in the market to protect their share in anticipation of an up-turn. The rise in prices began at the end of the year when the cost of a 128M byte chip on Asia’s spot market started to take off. By April this year, it was at around $5, but has recently fallen back to around $3.50, according to data from market analysts ICIS-LOR.

(Nancy Weil in Boston and John Blau in D