Why Samsung quietly cheers when Apple sells an iPhone

Why Samsung quietly cheers when Apple sells an iPhone

Eric Pfanner,New York Times | Jan 25, 2014, 02.12 PM IST

TOKYO: In the marketplace, Samsung Electronics and Apple battle for customers. In the courts, they fight over patents. Yet every time Apple sells an iPhone, Samsung quietly cheers, too.
In addition to being one of Apple’s main competitors, Samsung is one of its top suppliers. Samsung provides the application processor in the iPhone 5S – the brains of Apple’s flagship handset, and one of its most expensive components.
Because Samsung is not only the biggest maker of smartphones, but also a leading provider of parts to Apple and other gadget makers, company executives say they are confident that the electronics giant can work its way through a difficult period. On Friday, Samsung confirmed that it had sustained a sharp slowdown in sales growth and earnings in the fourth quarter of 2013 and warned that business conditions would remain challenging in the first half of this year. Apple’s sales have risen, and those gains have shored up Samsung by lifting the performance of its chipmaking business.
Samsung said that one-time factors were largely responsible for the fourth-quarter weakness. These included a special bonus totaling 800 billion won, or $740 million, that Samsung paid out to employees on the 20th anniversary of a management initiative to improve quality, as well as the effects of a surge in the strength of the South Korean currency, which Samsung pegged at 700 billion won.
“This kind of adjustment is normal for a high-growth industry,” said CW Chung, an analyst at Nomura, though he added that Samsung’s earnings could be “flattish” for the next two years.
Sales in the company’s mobile division fell 9% in the fourth quarter compared with the third quarter, it said, acknowledging that sales of high-endsmartphones had been weaker than expected. The premium segment, in which Samsung offers handsets like the Galaxy S4 and the Note 3, is the most lucrative part of the business, but analysts say it is increasingly saturated.
Samsung faces a renewed challenge from Apple, which introduced two new handsets – the iPhone 5S and a less expensive model, the 5C – in the second half of last year. Apple also recently reached agreements to distribute its phones via the largest mobile carriers in Japan and China.
While analysts said iPhone sales grew strongly after the latest models were introduced, with Apple regaining market share, Samsung’s chipmaking business shared the spoils. That unit posted a 7% quarter-on-quarter increase in sales, helped by “increased AP shipments for a competitor’s new product,” said Jee-Ho Baek, Samsung’s vice president of memory marketing, in a conference call with analysts. He was referring to application processors, and while he did not mention Apple by name, the allusion was clear.
Samsung’s mobile division provides about two-thirds of the company’s operating profit, but analysts expect that portion to decline in the coming years as the smartphone business matures. The chipmaking unit is expected to pick up some of the slack. That trend was already apparent in the fourth quarter, when the semiconductor division provided 24% of operating profit, up from 16% a year earlier.
Overall, Samsung posted net income of 7.3 trillion won, or $6.7 billion, up from 7.04 trillion won a year earlier but down from 8.24 trillion in the third quarter of 2013. Fourth-quarter sales of 59.28 trillion won were up from 56.06 trillion won a year earlier but flat compared with the third quarter of 2013. Operating profit, at 8.31 trillion won, was in line with a forecast issued two weeks ago.
The company said it expected weakness to persist in the first half of 2014, though it insisted that this was because of the “seasonality” of the technologyindustry, in which purchases are often deferred until later in the year.
While Samsung makes a wide range of consumer products other than phones, including televisions and home appliances, many of these have sluggish sales and low profit margins. Sales and earnings fell sharply in the display panel business.
Tablet computers are one area of promise, with sales and market share growing. Samsung executives said in the conference call that they were optimistic that new devices with larger screens would expand the tablet business further. The company also sees so-called wearable technology as a promising trend, though an early example, the Galaxy Gear smart watch, has gotten off to a slow start.
For now, that has left Samsung’s chipmaking arm to pick up most of the slack from the new softness in smartphones. Memory chips, which are recovering from a long price slump, are outperforming more complicated semiconductor devices like application processors. Samsung said memory chip sales had been bolstered in the fourth quarter by the introduction of new video game consoles like Sony’s PS4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One.
While Apple once bought other components, including screens, from Samsung, it has been moving to reduce its dependence on its South Korean rival. Still, Apple pays about $20 to $30 per phone for the iPhone application processors it buys from Samsung, estimated Sundeep Bajikar, an analyst at the brokerage firm Jefferies. That, he said, was about one-fifth of the overall parts bill for an iPhone.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment on reports that it planned to move production of application processors for its next generation of iPhones to the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. But Chung, the Nomura analyst, said he expected Apple to alternate contracts for application processors between Samsung and TSMC from now on.
There is a lot of business to go around. In 2013, Apple was the biggest buyer of semiconductors globally, spending $30.3 billion, according to IHS, a research firm. Samsung, which sources some of its chips internally, was in second place, spending $22.2 billion on outside semiconductor purchases, IHS said.
As chip technology improves more incrementally, Samsung is one of the few companies left with the financial wherewithal to make the investments needed for new generations of semiconductor equipment, analysts say. As a result, it could be in a strong position to gain business from other mobile phone makers, Bajikar said.
“Then Samsung will have greater control over the whole ecosystem,” he said. “The benefits of that could be enormous.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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