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S9 halts Samsung run of progress but semiconductors stand strong

Samsung S9

Samsung’s run of reporting record quarterly results has come to an end as sluggish sales for its flagship S9 device hit a wall.

Analysts had been predicting this would be a tough quarter for the device, some believing this would be the weakest launch for years, and it appears the fears have become reality. With sales of roughly $52.1 billion for the three months, a decline of 4% year-on-year, Samsung at least offered somewhat accurate guidance in a note a couple of weeks ago.

“Second quarter revenue fell due to softer sales of smartphones and display panels, despite robust demand for memory chips,” said Samsung in the earnings statement. “The continued strength of the Company’s memory business contributed to the higher operating profit. Net profit was little changed from a year earlier due to higher income tax.”

While this is certainly not an ideal situation for the business, at least it is not alone. The iPhoneX has also been experiencing sluggish sales, as the continued trend of flat innovation and limited differentiation continues. Apple might have been able to avoid the dip over the last couple of years, selling on its brand more than product innovation, but it seems not even the iLifers can continue to blindly follow the iChief down the trail of mediocrity any more. No-one is permanently exempt of global trends.

For the short-term future, the story is unlikely to change significantly, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. With 5G networks set to be switched on over the next couple of years, manufacturers will soon be able to begin a refreshment cycle of devices, with flagship products being marketed as ‘5G Ready’. The consumers insatiable appetite for data and the need for speed will likely spur on the need to update devices.

This might not be the best time for the devices division, Samsung does at least have the burgeoning, if not as sexy, semiconductor unit. The NAND and DRAM markets continued to be big earners for Samsung, despite commenting on weak seasonal demand. With global cloud trends continuing to surge, front-line suppliers to the data centre industry are not going to be going hungry any time soon.

For servers, demand for SSD for data centres is forecast to remain strong, while for enterprise, adoption of high-density server SSD over 8TB is expected to continue. The adoption of SSD is expected to expand into more sectors and all product segments are projected to use more high-density eStorage, perhaps explaining the South Korean drive for innovation in the semiconductor market.

According to Yonhap News Agency, the South Korean government has pledged roughly $1.34 billion to the semiconductor industry over the next ten years, to support the country’s position in the global standings, but also to capitalise on the expected growth in the segment. The semiconductor space is considered to account for roughly 20% of the country’s exports.

“In order to have South Korea maintain its reputation as the world’s top semiconductor powerhouse, we will support the development of the chip industry by focusing on three strategies,” said Paik Un-gyu, Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy.

The three pillars of the strategy are the development of next-generation materials that will replace existing memory chips, the seeking of combined growth of fabless and foundry businesses, and hosting production lines of global semiconductor companies. Samsung will almost undoubtedly benefit from government interest in this area.

Samsung’s flagship business unit, its smartphone division, has had a rough couple of years, owing to a global slowdown on devices and also its own engineering ‘difficulties’, but this decline is not something which we should be surprised at; the writing has been on the wall as consumers start to favour refurbished or second devices, while also extending the lifecycle of their current devices. But on the positive side, Samsung is collecting profits through diversification.

Investors will moan about the deficit in sales and profits, but a burgeoning semiconductor division and a device refreshment cycle on the horizon, it could be in a worse position.


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