Samsung Electronics Co Ltd is bracing for its weakest smartphone profit
growth this year since 2007 as arch rival Apple Inc challenges its
domination in China's $80 billion market.
Samsung's mobile devices
business, which earns two thirds of the company's profit, will come
under pressure when Apple makes its phones available from January 17 via
China Mobile Ltd, through which Samsung has been selling smartphones
for around seven years.
Apple is also widely expected to sell
smartphones with larger screens come autumn when it traditionally
announces products, neutralising a selling point that Samsung has
enjoyed since introducing its Galaxy Note in late 2011.
decline in mobiles will be inevitable, as the majority of growth will
come from cheaper, low-margin phones, while competition at the high end
will get only tougher with Apple's iPhone deal in China," said Shinhan
Investment analyst Kim Young-chan.
Operating profit at Samsung's
mobile devices division is likely to grow by a low single digit or to
shrink mildly in 2014, after increasing its size by eight times over the
past five years, according to a Thomson Reuters' Starmine SmartEstimate
of 23 analysts, which gives greater weighting to the more accurate
"Its business was already hit in the fourth quarter by
Apple's strong iPhone sales, and the impact will continue at least until
the end of the first quarter," said Kim.
Samsung, the world's
biggest smartphone maker with a third of the market, will release
October-December earnings guidance on Tuesday which will likely show
operating profit growth of 10 percent at 9.75 trillion won, according to
(Also see: Samsung quarterly smartphone shipments top 88 million: Research)
That would be 4 percent less than the record 10.2
trillion won of July-September as Apple enjoyed buoyant sales in the
United States and Japan during the year-end holiday season.
earnings were also likely pulled down by a special bonus related to the
20th anniversary of the "New Management" strategy of Chairman Lee
Kun-hee, which analyst estimates put at 300 billion to 700 billion won.
is the biggest smartphone vendor in China with sales reaching around 70
million units last year, or 20 percent of its total shipments, analysts
But Apple's China Mobile incursion and possible larger
screen offerings could cut sales of Samsung's latest Galaxy S and Note
series by 3 percent this year, BNP Paribas estimates. The iPhone is
widely perceived in China as a gold standard for high-end products,
(Also see: Apple inks China Mobile deal, gets 760 million new potential iPhone customers)
"We think one of the key reasons Samsung has managed
to take market share from Apple so far is its large-sized screen
offerings," BNP analyst Peter Yu said in a note.
gap is likely to narrow if Apple launches large-screen phones in 2014.
Unless Samsung further differentiates itself with flexible OLED (organic
light-emitting diode) screens, it may lose some of these high-end
Shares tumble, Won soars
Samsung shares have
been pummelled in recent weeks by 22 analysts downgrading fourth-quarter
earnings estimates over the past 30 days.
The shares, worth $190
billion, fell 10 percent over the past fortnight to a 4-month low last
week, wiping off market value to the tune of $19 billion - equal to the
total value of shares of Sony Corp.
The won's rise to a five-year
high against the U.S. dollar has also been prompting investors to sell,
as a strong won reduces the value of Samsung's repatriated earnings.
strong won is particularly troublesome for Samsung's components
business, which generates around 30 percent of overall operating profit,
because it primarily settles accounts in dollars, analysts said.
brightest spot is its semiconductor unit, which brings in 20 percent of
operating profit, and which enjoys growth estimates of around 42
percent this year.
Overall operating profit growth for 2014 is likely to be 6.2 percent, the slowest pace in three years, according to Starmine.
© Thomson Reuters 2014