Samsung Sells Only 9 Million Galaxy S4s in Q4, Sees First Profit Drop in 2 Years
January 24, 2014 3:21 PM
Phonemaker looks to Galaxy S5, Gear 2, and Note 4 to boost sales in Q2-Q4
Founded in 1969, the Samsung Electronics
Comp., Ltd. (
is by far the largest company in South Korea with a market cap of $176.8B USD. It also happens to be the world's top smartphone producer and second place in tablet sales. So when it shows signs of trouble, it's a major concern for investors.
I. Weak Won, Bonus Play Role in Profit Slump
Such was the case early this month when Samsung delivered its earnings forecast, predicting the first dip in profit in two years. (Samsung delivers its earnings report relatively late, so it offers an early unaudited estimation to give analysts a jump on their work.)
On Thursday Samsung put Q4 2013 officially in the books, and left more optimistic analysts cursing. A survey by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S of analysts taken earlier in January
following Samsung's guidance release
predicted a W10.3T (~$9.53B USD) operating profit, which would have set a record. Dow Jones Newswires'
came in just slightly lower at W9.65T ($8.93B USD).
Korea's strengthening Won hurt Samsung's profit. [Image Source: Bloomberg]
Instead Samsung posted operating profit of just W8.31T ($7.69B USD), a substantial miss, even in the wake of the gloomy forecast. Net profit (profit after taxes) was down roughly one trillion Won from the previous quarter, at W7.24T ($6.7B USD). Revenue was up slightly, at a record W59.28T ($54.87B USD).
A strengthening South Korean Won (KRW) was partly to blame. Low inflation pushed the value of the currency, meaning Samsung was getting less Won when it pulled in revenue from Europe and the U.S.
A display of gratitude and generosity towards the company's employees also impacted profit. In honor of the twentieth anniversary of Chairman Lee Kun Hee unveiling a new vision for the company -- a vision that has driven it to unbelievable new heights -- Samsung gave a W800B ($741M USD) bonus to employees.
Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-Hee announced a new vision for the company 20 years ago. To honor the transformative effects, Samsung gave employees a bonus this quarter.
[Image Source: AP]
For Samsung it was a mixed year: the company saw misses in
(and now Q4), but outperformed expectations
in Q1 2013
II. Some Gains
One traditionally weak unit -- the consumer electronics (CE) unit -- was actually a success story for the Korean OEM. The category, which includes appliances such as refrigerators, dishwashers, and ranges, plus televisions soared. Samsung reported a 90 percent increase in quarter-on-quarter (QoQ) TV revenue, which help drive profits for the unit up 88 percent. The growth in the appliance market wasn't quite as explosive, but was respectable, as well.
Samsung's smart appliances may drive profits in years to come.
by the end of next year reach the top spot in the appliances market, which it currently has a 10.5 percent market share. Samsung pulled in an estimated $12B USD in appliance revenue last year, compared to Whirlpool Corp.'s (
) $18B USD haul in 2012. Samsung is currently the fastest growing appliance maker, and its leaning on that steady progress and higher-margin "smart" appliances to help steady the up-and-down television component of its CE business. It wants CE to eventually be a key third pillar of profitability, similar to what semiconductors and mobile devices are today.
Samsung's IM (IT and Mobile) unit is where the mixed results start to pop up.
In the tablets space Samsung gained ground, selling nearly 12 million, units, up roughly 50 percent from the 7.9 million it moved in Q4 2012. The results pushed Samsung's yearly tablet sales to
, good enough for second-place behind arch-rival Apple, Inc. (
The company plans to test the waters with a pair of 12.2 inch tablets, the NotePro (which includes a stylus) and the TabPro (which doesn't). These tablets were unveiled a couple of weeks ago at the
2014 Consumer Electronics Show
From there, though, most of the news was bad, mobile-wise. Samsung indicates it overspent on mobile advertising, cutting into profit. Major campaigns included a promotion with the world's top soccer stars in the wind up to the World Cup, plus a pricey sponsorship of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
Senior Vice President Kim Hyunjoon is quoted by
We'll actively leverage global sports events such as the Sochi (Winter) Olympics and our retail channels... but we will try to raise the efficiency of our marketing spend and lower our overall mobile marketing budget to revenue this year compared with last year.
Samsung has been criticized for overspending on advertising.
III. Customers No Longer View GS4 as "The Next Big Thing"
Smartphone shipments did rise 4 percent in the fourth quarter, with 91 million devices shipped, according to KB Investment & Securities Comp. (
). But Samsung moved only 9 million of its top-margin flagship Galaxy S4 devices. By contrast
in Q4 2012 Samsung
-- which does not release unit sales figures -- is estimated to have only sold 60 million smartphones, but still managed to move
an estimated 15.2 million
units of its then-flagship Galaxy S3 device.
As Samsung tends to release its flagship phone earlier in the year it tends to see its sales peek during the summer and fall, only fall slightly in Sept.-Dec. window when Apple's new flagship device hits the market.
The Galaxy S3 and Galaxy S4 followed very different sales arcs, despite similar announcement dates. The Galaxy S4 was very fast out the gate and sold an average of 20 million units per quarter in Q2 and Q3. But this quarter sales fell roughly in half, dropping well below the Galaxy S3 monthly sales rate at that point in the device's lifecycle. Still the Galaxy S4 did ship more units during its launch year. By the end of 2012 Samsung had sold
roughly 39.9 million
Galaxy S3s, by the end of 2013, Samsung had sold roughly 49.0 million Galaxy S4s.
Part of this difference in sales pace is likely due to Samsung rolling out devices faster in top sales regions like the U.S. and Europe, which used to trail the South Korean launch by healthy margins. Overall, if there's one conclusion that can be drawn, it's that the Galaxy S4 has been a steady seller for Samsung, if a bit disappointing in growth and longevity.
Arch-rival Apple shipped 33.8 million iPhones, of which
20 million were iPhone 5Ss, the premium flagship variant. Those numbers indicate that while the Galaxy Note 3 -- Samsung's popular larger-screen phablet device -- is competitive with Apple's iPhone 5C in terms of sales, that Apple's star device is outselling the Galaxy S4 2-to-1.
What makes this trend even more troubling is that Samsung's roughly 75 million sales of older smartphones (not the GS4 or Galaxy Note 3) could also easily erode from a second major competitive threat. Samsung's budget sales are heavily driven by Chinese smartphone sales, a market in which Samsung has been dominant for some time now.
In China domestic phonemakers
Lenovo Group, Ltd.'s (
and Huawei Technology Comp., Ltd. (
) are looking to chip away at Samsung's Chinese sales with models that sell for around $100 USD, unlocked. Lenovo has been particularly effective, moving into third place in global smartphone sales in Q3 2013, behind Apple and Samsung.
Lee Young Hee, executive vice president of the company’s mobile business, tried to cheerr up analysts announcing that the Galaxy S5 was coming soon and would revive sales. He commented:
We’ve been announcing our first flagship model in the first half of each year, around March and April, and we are still targeting for release around that time. When we release our S5 device, you can also expect a Gear successor with more advanced functions, and the bulky design will also be improved.
It's no secret what the highlight of that device may be. Not content to simply add a fingerprint scanner as Apple and other manufacturers have, Samsung is driving to possibly add a biometric Iris sensor unlock to its new device. He told
Many people are fanatical about iris recognition technology. We are studying the possibility but can’t really say whether we will have it or not on the S5.
Samsung is also rumored to be using its flexible display technology to add a wrap-around three-sided display, which overlaps onto the edges of a smartphone or tablet. The technology is expected to first appear in the Galxy Note 4. Samsung has also filed patents that indicate it may launch an Android glasses wearable sometime later this year.
IV. Devices Unit Also Suffers
Locked in a complex technology war with
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Comp., Ltd. (
) (TSMC) and Intel Corp. (
, Samsung will spend deeply this year, with capital expenditures on pace to match 2013's record spending (W23.8T ($22B USD)).
plans to tape out 20 nm this year
, and hopes to reach volume production next year.
[Image Source: Samsung]
It's a bit behind Intel, which is already on 14 nm volume production and TSMC, which is on volume production at the 20 nm node. Thus, you could say Samsung is two years behind Intel and one year behind TSMC process wise. But It's spending nearly twice as much as these foes, so it may be able to close that gap over the next few years.
In Q4 the Device Solutions (DS) unit saw a small drop in profit from Q3, despite a rise in SoC and DRAM/NAND revenue. Despite mobile growth fueling more demand, supply eased in Q4 as
SK Hynix Inc. (
) ramped DRAM/NAND production back up following a major factory fire from earlier in the year.
If the IC (integrated circuit) side of the DS unit was mixed, the display unit was downright bad. As mentioned, Samsung's sales of
TVs was up, but its sales of displays as components -- for everything from smartphones to TVs saw a 20 percent drop in revenue and 89 percent drop in profit from Q3 2013. Sales of the pricey high end OLED displays slumped slightly, although there was an uptick in new OLED screen model sales. Sales of LCD screens -- which constitute the bulk of Samsung production -- drove most of the slump. The key issue there was oversupply.
All of Samsung's units remain profitable, but it looks to be in for a rocky Q1 2014, even by its own forecast. Thus expect the company to earn a pass for the first quarter, but be keenly launched in Q2 2014 when its critical next-generation Galaxy S-series and next-generation Galaxy Gear debut.
"I mean, if you wanna break down someone's door, why don't you start with AT&T, for God sakes? They make your amazing phone unusable as a phone!" -- Jon Stewart on Apple and the iPhone
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