Samsung Electronics estimated Friday morning that it earned a quarterly profit of $8.3 billion, as it sold close to 500 smartphone handsets per minute and as demand picked up for the flat screens it makes for mobile devices, including those for rival Apple products.
The company’s run of five straight record quarters may end in January-March on weaker seasonal demand, though a strong pipeline of smartphones and improving chip prices have eased concerns that earnings growth could slow this year, powering Samsung shares to record levels last week, Reuters reported.
Samsung stock dipped 1.1 percent Tuesday, in a Seoul market that was down 0.4 percent.
"Investors are a bit concerned that Samsung's momentum may slow in the first half. The smartphone market is unlikely to sustain its strong growth as advanced markets are nearing saturation despite growth in emerging countries," Kim Sung-soo, a fund manager at LS Asset Management, told Reuters.
Samsung has outpaced Apple – both its biggest rival and biggest customer -- despite the U.S. firm's launch of the latest iPhone 5, with sales momentum boosted by its Galaxy Note II phone-tablet, or 'phablet,' in the fourth quarter. IPhone 5 sales were a little below expectations, analysts said.
While Apple rolled out just a single new smartphone last year globally, Samsung bombarded the market with 37 variants tweaked for regional and consumer tastes, from high-end smartphones to cheaper low-end models. By comparison, Taiwan's HTC Corp released 18 models, Nokia nine and LG Electronics 24.
HTC on Monday said its fourth-quarter profit slumped more than 90 percent as its sales continue to trail those of the Galaxy series and the iPhone.
Samsung, valued at close to $230 billion, gave its October-December earnings guidance Tuesday, ahead of the full earnings release expected by Jan. 25.
Shipments of Samsung's flagship Galaxy S III, which overtook the iPhone 4S in the third quarter to become the world's best-selling smartphone, are likely to have slipped to around 15 million in the last quarter from 18 million in July-September, analysts estimate, but sales of around 8 million Galaxy Note II 'phablets' should more than make up for that - pushing overall smartphone shipments to around 63 million.
The Note was selling well, boosting fourth-quarter profit, while iPhone 5 sales were less than expected, said Song Myung-sub, an analyst at HI Investment & Securities.
Samsung said its October-December operating profit jumped 89 percent to 8.8 trillion won ($8.3 billion) from a year ago, just ahead of a forecast for 8.7 trillion won ($8.2 billion) by 16 analysts surveyed by Reuters. That is 8.6 percent higher than its previous record of 8.1 trillion won ($7.6 billion) in July-September.
Analysts expect profits from the mobile division to more than double from last year and increase slightly from the previous quarter, to around 5.8 trillion won ($5.4 billion). A recovery in chip prices and flat screens should also boost component earnings, helped by booming sales of mobiles carrying Samsung's chips, micro-processors and flat screens.
Reflecting the strong outlook, shares in Asia's most valuable technology stock last week hit an all-time high of 1.584 million won ($1,500). The stock gained 44 percent last year, topping Apple's 31 percent increase and easily outpacing a 9 percent rise on the broader Korean market.