Visitors look at TV monitors produced by South Korean electronics colossus, Samsung Electronics. Photo: AFP

Covid-19 clouds have rained doom and gloom upon the global economy in 2020, but South Korean tech flagship Samsung Electronics saw its biggest quarterly revenue figure ever in the year’s third quarter.

In the July-September period, Samsung raked in 66.96 trillion won ($59 billion) in consolidated revenues and 12.35 trillion won ($10.8 billion) in operating profits, the company announced in a press release today.

The results marked Samsung’s highest quarterly revenues ever, the company said. They trumped a previous record – revenues of 65.9 trillion won – set in Q4 2017.

Moreover, the third-quarter numbers marked the company’s best results in both metrics for 2020. They were also the company’s biggest revenues and second biggest profits in two years: In Q3 2018, Samsung had reported 65.46 trillion won in revenues and 17.57 trillion won in operating profits.  

Operating profits were up 52% from the previous quarter and up 59% from the previous year, “thanks to a boost in demand for smartphones and consumer electronics as well as efficient cost management,” the company said in its statement.

Like other tech firms, Samsung has benefitted from flying demand for online services and products among locked-down consumers, as well as from the companies supplying them.

The solid earnings were driven by continuing strong demand for both memory and non-memory chips, as well as by a revival in demand for smartphones, the company said.

Samsung continues to spend big. Full-year capital expenditures are expected to come in at 35.2 trillion won, of which 28.9 trillion won will be allocated to semiconductors and 4.3 trillion to displays, the company disclosed.

Even so, Q4 might not look so rosy.

“Looking ahead, Samsung Electronics expects profit to decline in the fourth quarter amid weakening memory chip demand from server customers and intensifying competition in mobile phones and consumer electronics,” Samsung said.

It is unclear at this stage how hard Samsung will be hit by an ongoing failure to contain Covid-19 in the USA, and a disastrous “second wave” of the pandemic that is currently rolling across Western Europe.

A huge multinational with presence in all corners of the globe, Samsung is a nose-to-tail, multi-division company that produces components for both its own divisions and competitors such as Apple, as well as the full gamut of own-branded devices and appliances.

As such, its quarterly results provide a snapshot of the health – or otherwise – of the various different sub sectors of electronics. In Q3 2020, Samsung’s earnings were led by mobile, followed by chips, TVs and appliances and finally displays.

Mobile

Samsung has customarily seen its major revenues coming from either chip or mobile sales, and this quarter; this quarter big earner was mobile. Samsung’s IT & Mobile Communications Division posted 30.49 trillion won in revenue and 4.45 trillion won in operating profit for the quarter.

“Overall market demand increased in the third quarter as stimulus measures helped many economies recover following lockdowns during the second quarter,” Samsung wrote. The company also benefitted from the launch of new, high-end smartphones globally, and stronger sales of mass market  models in regions such as India, as well as rising sales of tablets and wearables.

The company is bullish looking ahead to 2021, as more and more consumers upgrade to 5G phones to cruise networks expected to come online globally.

Chips

Samsung’s key division, semiconductors, saw 18.8 trillion won in revenue and 5.54 trillion in profits in Q3.

“Healthy demand for mobile and PC products led to higher-than-expected shipments of memory chips,” Samsung said – outweighing the impact of lower memory chips prices.

In the high-end non-memory chip sector, rising demand for mobile components and increased orders for high-performance computing chips led the numbers. Samsung’s foundry business – making high-end chips for external customers – saw record quarterly growth, a big plus for a company that is in the midst of an aggressive expansion into non-memory.

However server demand was down from the first half, the company said. In the first half of the year, there was massive global demand as populations in lockdown worked, consumed and recreated heavily online.

Analysts have suggested that Samsung’s chip results were likely boosted by a big, last-minute buy from Chinese tech giant Huawei, desperate to secure inventory before US sanctions on semiconductor supply to the company were applied in mid-September.

That could not be confirmed as Samsung customarily does not reveal information about its business with specific customers.

TVs and appliances

Samsung’s Consumer Electronics Division recorded 14.09 trillion in revenues and 1.56 trillion won in profits.

“Demand for TVs surged both QoQ and YoY as the “At-home” trend buoyed sales of high-resolution home cinema,” the company said.

Displays

Samsung’s display business won 7.32 trillion won in revenue and 0.47 trillion in profit for the third quarter, driven by increasing sales panels for  smartphone, TVs and monitors.

Looking forward, Samsung anticipates solid demand, led by new smartphone launches.

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