Samsung Electronics’ operating profit jumps 933% in first quarter, beats expectations


Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy S24 smartphones during a media preview event in Seoul, South Korea, on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024. Samsung, the world’s most prolific smartphone maker, is leaning into artificial intelligence as the key to unlocking greater sales this year. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images

SeongJoon Cho | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Samsung Electronics on Tuesday said operating profit for the first quarter jumped 932.8% as memory chip prices rebounded on the back of AI optimism.

Here are Samsung’s first-quarter results versus LSEG estimates:

  • Revenue: 71.92 trillion Korean won (about $52.3 billion), vs. 71.04 trillion Korean won
  • Operating profit: 6.61 trillion Korean won, vs. 5.94 trillion Korean won

Samsung’s revenue for the quarter ending March jumped 12.81% from a year ago, while operating profit soared 932.8% in the same period.

The figures were in line with the company’s guidance earlier this month, where Samsung said operating profit in the January-March quarter likely rose to 6.6 trillion Korean won, up 931% from a year ago. The firm expected first quarter revenue at 71 trillion won.

The South Korean electronics giant saw record losses in 2023 as the industry reeled from a post-Covid slump in demand.

“The company posted KRW 71.92 trillion in consolidated revenue on the back of strong sales of flagship Galaxy S24 smartphones and higher prices for memory semiconductors. Operating profit increased to KRW 6.61 trillion as the Memory Business returned to profit by addressing demand for high value-added products,” Samsung Electronics said in a statement on Tuesday.

Citi analysts said they see upside for Samsung’s NAND flash memory business as a result of AI computing demand. In a note on April 5, they reiterated their “buy” rating on the firm with a target price of 120,000 won — a 56% upside from the closing price of 76,700 won on Monday.

NAND is another staple memory chip alongside DRAM.

“We expect storage (HDD) to be the next bottleneck in AI computing, especially in AI training, and foresee Samsung Electronics to be one of the key beneficiaries of SSD demand momentum for AI training,” said the Citi analysts.

Samsung is the world’s largest manufacturer of dynamic random-access memory chips (DRAM), which are commonly found in a wide range of consumer devices including smartphones and computers.

Samsung said it expects the second quarter to be driven mostly by demand for generative AI, while mobile demand remains stable. Meanwhile, it expects PC demand to be impacted by slow seasonality, which could lead to customers adjusting inventories before new product launches in the second half of 2024.

In a Tuesday earnings call, the firm warned of escalating geopolitical instability and continued cost hikes in major components, particularly memory.

“Profitability in Q2 is expected to be down slightly compared to Q1 and Q3, which is when we released new flagship products this year. In response, we’re focusing on cost competitiveness throughout the R&D, manufacturing and sales processes to achieve solid profitability,” said Samsung, adding that it will continue to boost flagship sales through expansion of Galaxy AI.

Memory business returns to profit

Samsung said its semiconductor business logged a 1.91 trillion Korean won in operating profit in the first quarter, as compared to a loss of 4.58 trillion won in the same period a year ago and a loss of 2.18 trillion Korean won in the fourth quarter.

“We assume the earnings surprise was driven by higher memory price hike on AI-driven strong upturn cycle. We anticipate the company will guide for positive memory market outlook and emphasize its readiness in AI era including HBM (12H HBM3E, HBM4) and foundry/packaging solution,” said SK Kim of Daiwa Capital Markets in emailed comments to CNBC on Monday, ahead of the earnings release.

As AI models become more complex and datasets become larger, these models need memory chips with higher capacities and faster speeds to cater to these workloads.

Kim said in an April 5 report he expects another price hike on memory chips to drive Samsung’s second-quarter earnings on the back of an AI boom and the earthquake in Taiwan.

“Especially, we expect more upside in prices resulting from the earthquake in Taiwan,” said Kim, adding that the earthquake in early April temporarily impacted TSMC‘s and Micron‘s production.

To meet AI demand, Samsung said it started mass producing HBM3E 8H and V9 NAND in April. It plans to mass produce HBM3E 12H products and a 128GB product based on 1b nanometer 32GB DDR5 within the second quarter.

Despite macroeconomic uncertainty and geopolitical tensions, the firm expects the operational environment to “remain positive with demand” – bolstered by generative AI – in the second half of the year.

Samsung also said development of 3-nanometer and 2-nanometer processes is “progressing smoothly.” Samsung kicked off mass production of 3-nanometer chips in 2022 and plans to start mass producing 2-nanometer chips in 2025.

Galaxy S24 boost

Strong sales of Samsung’s latest smartphone series Galaxy S24 helped to lift revenue and operating profit of the mobile business, the firm said. AI features on the S24 such as Circle to Search, Photo Assist and Live Translate were popular among customers, Samsung said.

However, the firm warned that smartphone demand and shipments could decline in the second quarter because of seasonality.

But the smartphone market could see a rebound in the second half of the year from “stabilizing consumer sentiment, the expansion of AI products and services, and economic growth in emerging markets.”

Samsung said it will continue to expand Galaxy AI to existing and new flagship products to drive further growth.

Growing competition

Many countries in the world are racing to manufacture advanced semiconductors.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration agreed to grant Samsung up to $6.4 billion of funding to create new manufacturing capacity to produce chips in Texas. Micron and TSMC are also poised to receive grants to boost chipmaking in the U.S. after decades of chip production moving to Asia.

Samsung and TSMC are set to face competition from Japan’s Rapidus Corporation, which was recently granted $3.89 billion in additional subsidies from the Japanese government to mass produce 2-nanometer chips from 2027.

Samsung has lost its edge, analyst says

There are rising concerns that Samsung Electronics risks losing its leading position to rivals like SK Hynix, the world’s no. 2 memory chip maker.

SK Hynix on March 19 said it became the first in the industry to mass produce HBM3E, the next-generation of high bandwidth memory chips used in AI chipsets. SK Hynix is the primary supplier of HBM3 chips to Nvidia’s AI chipsets.

Mehdi Hosseini, senior tech hardware analyst of Susquehanna International Group, pointed out in early April that Samsung used to be the market leader in memory, smartphones and display innovations.

Now, Samsung is only “benefiting from the cycle recovery,” he added.

In the first quarter, Samsung managed to regain the top spot in smartphone shipments after losing the crown to Apple in 2023, according to International Data Corp.

This article was originally published on CNBC