In an earlier Supply Chain Matters posting, we noted that this week, Apple provided a huge thud across Silicon Valley and global equity markets. The globe’s richest and most profitable company delivered a huge financial disappointment resulting in the first quarterly sales drop in 13 years. Executives pointed to macroeconomic headwinds and a far more competitive and challenging smartphone market. Yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered its biggest drop since February, fueled by the recent financial performance news from Apple, along with sharp declines provided by IBM and Cisco Systems.
However, this is a global world of industry competition and it is important to reflect on other players and other product, market, pricing and supply chain trends in similar industries and markets.
This week Samsung Electronics reported what was billed as the fastest profit growth in its core mobile business in nearly three years, attributed to strong initial sales for its Samsung Galaxy S7 model smartphones. Overall revenue rose 5.7 percent. The company’s mobile business operating profit for the March ending quarter rose 42 percent from the year-earlier period, noted as the largest year-over-year improvement in mobile profits since the second quarter of 2014.
Business media reports cite analyst’s estimates that Samsung shipped 10-12 million units of the new Galaxy S7 series phones in the past quarter. Keep in mind that Samsung elected to push-up the scheduled launch of this new S7 models to Q1, which may have led to the improvement in financial performance. Once more, Samsung’s guidance to investors reflected a continued optimistic sales growth forecast for S7 devices in the current operating quarter. In its reporting, global business network broadcaster CNBC quoted market research firm TrendForce as forecasting that S7 unit shipments will reach 52 million by year-end, surpassing a previous record of 47 million for the Galaxy S4 model. While that number does not equate to iPhone sales in a single quarter, keep in mind that Samsung offers abroad variety of other smartphone models in various competitive price ranges. One estimate indicates over 79 million total Samsung produced smartphones sold in Q1.
Thus, while the overall global smartphone market may be shrinking or turning toward a replacement cycle, there are pockets of provider growth. Among the current rankings of top five global producers of smartphones, besides Samsung and Apple, three are China based, offering price competitive models, especially for larger China and Asia based markets.
Operating margins for Samsung are noted to have risen to 14.1 percent from 10.6 percent from a year ago amid a streamlining of product line offerings and reductions in manufacturing costs. Keep that number in perspective and recall that Apple’s current operating margin was noted as close to 28 percent in its most recent quarter, twice that of Samsung. That may be an indicator of price performance and sensitivity reflected in today’s global smartphone markets. It also counters Apple’s claim of macroeconomic headwinds in current regions, since Samsung competes in similar geographies.
Readers should recall that Samsung is both a competitor as well as a major supplier to Apple in the form of proprietary processor chips as well as general memory chips produced by Samsung’s semiconductor operations. In the latest quarter, this chip business recorded its first year-over-year decline in more than three years, due to what was termed as a supply glut and cooling demand for processor and memory chips.
We have previously noted the importance of Samsung’s vertical supply chain integration strategy reflected by its chips business as both an internal and external industry supplier. From an advanced technology perspective, Samsung gains the benefit for first mover advantage in leveraging the most advanced chip based technologies. From a broader key strategic industry component supplier perspective, the risk is that when supply chain dominants such as Apple financially sneeze, the implication flows down to the component supplier, even large key suppliers. These reverberations will likely continue over the coming months.
Thus there are different sides to any coin and it is important for high tech and consumer electronics supply chain S&OP teams to focus on the core sales, pricing and product trends reflected in the overall market, not just certain players. Another key takeaway is the ongoing critical importance of responsive and timely product design and new product introduction.