H.S. Kim, president/CEO of Consumer Electronics Division, Samsung Electronics speaks during a Samsung news conference at the 2019 CES in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. January 7, 2019. Image Credit: Reuters

Seoul: Samsung Electronics on Tuesday flagged its first quarterly profit drop in two years, painting a grim outlook amid mounting competition from Chinese smartphone makers and declining chip prices.

The South Korean tech giant — the world’s top maker of smartphones and memory chips — has enjoyed record profits in recent years despite a series of setbacks, including a humiliating recall and the jailing of its de facto chief.

But operating profit during the October to December period was expected to be around 10.8 trillion won (Dh35.4 billion), down 28.7 per cent from a year earlier, Samsung said in an earnings estimate.

The figure was below market consensus of about 13.5 trillion won, according to market researcher FnGuide.

Sales dropped more than 10 per cent to 59 trillion won in the period, Samsung said.

It cited “lacklustre demand in the memory business and intensifying competition in the smartphone business” for the dismal outlook.

“Memory earnings fell significantly... due to weaker-than-expected demand amid inventory adjustments at data-centre customers,” it said.

That led to a drop in shipments and a “greater-than-expected” decrease in chip prices, it added.

“We expect earnings to remain subdued in the first quarter of 2019 due to difficult conditions for the memory business but strengthen in the second half,” it forecast.

Samsung withholds net profit and sector-by-sector business performance data until it releases its final earnings report, which is expected later this month.

For 2018, the South Korean tech giant said it expects operating profit to reach 58.9 trillion won, up nearly 10 per cent from the previous year, and sales to inch up 1.6 per cent to 243.5 trillion won.

Shares in Samsung Electronics, the flagship subsidiary of the giant Samsung Group that dominates South Korea’s economy, rose 0.5 per cent in early morning trading.

‘Losing ground’

While Samsung leads the global smartphone market with a 20 per cent share, it faces mounting competition from Chinese rivals like Huawei — which surpassed Apple in second place last year — offering quality devices at cheaper prices.

“Samsung is losing ground to Huawei, Xiaomi and other Chinese rivals in the huge China and India markets,” Neil Mawston, executive director at market researcher Strategy Analytics, said in a report.

Samsung once also had a 20 per cent market share in China but has seen its sales tumble to less than one per cent of the world’s largest smartphone market in the third quarter, and last month announced the closure of its factory in Tianjin.

The South Korean tech giant will reportedly roll out a new line up of its flagship Galaxy handsets at next month’s World Mobile Congress in Barcelona as it seeks to regain a competitive edge in a market segment it once dominated.

It is also set to introduce the world’s first bendable smartphone in the first half.

Samsung’s reputation suffered a major blow after a damaging worldwide recall of its Galaxy Note 7 devices over exploding batteries in 2016, which cost the firm billions of dollars and shattered its global brand image.

It also took another hit after the bribery conviction of Lee Jae-yong — the son and heir of the group’s ailing current chairman Lee Kun-hee.

The 50-year-old scion was a key figure in the scandal that ousted former South Korean leader Park Geun-hye following massive nationwide protests, and was sentenced to five years in jail last year.

But Lee was released from jail in February last year after several of his convictions were quashed on appeal.