Samsung profit at record $7.3bn
Strong handset sales made up for reduced profits from its chip business, as prices of its mainstay dynamic random access memory (DRAM) chips, used in computers and mobiles, dropped 14 per cent in the September quarter. DRAM chips now trade below what it costs most contract manufacturers to make them, and will squeeze near-term earnings, analysts say. Tablets and smartphones, the real growth areas, use far smaller memory storage.
Samsung is expected to invest less in chips next year due to the drop in demand, which could be bad news for semiconductor equipment manufacturers such as ASML. Kwon Oh-hyun, promoted to Samsung CEO in June, said late last month that the group has yet to finalise its 2013 investment plans.
Samsung is beefing up its product line-up, with the latest phone-cum-tablet Galaxy Note expected to go on sale in the United States this month, and its ATIV smartphones that run on Microsoft's new Windows system to compete with Nokia's Lumia series.
Samsung's mobile division chief JK Shin last week predicted Note II sales could be three times higher than those of its predecessor model in the three months after launch - suggesting sales of around 10 million devices by the end of this year.
Some analysts see the Note II, a stripped-out, cheaper version of the Galaxy S III and rising NAND flash memory chip prices helping Samsung deliver higher fourth-quarter profit. Nomura today predicted October-December profit could be up to 10 per cent more than the 8.1 trillion won in July-September.
In a note, Citi analyst Henry Kim predicted strong October-December profits, driven by a recovery in semiconductors, though telecoms operating margins could decline by 5 percentage points to 15 per cent as it spends more on marketing. "The semiconductor division will show the strongest momentum," he said.
Despite a bruising series of patent disputes and the reputational risk of the US court defeat in August, Samsung's brand value has surged this year as it shipped more handsets and smartphones than any of its rivals. The value of the Samsung brand has jumped to 9th in the world - up from 17th last year - at $32.9 billion, according to brand consultancy Interbrand. That's more than Toyota Motor, but less than half of second-ranked Apple's $76.6 billion.