Samsung Earnings 2Q14

Samsung’s earnings are in, and they were not very good (Bloomberg: note the original title in the URL slug. The title and tone of this article were revised from the pessimism in the original publication to a much more optimistic tone, which shows how worthless financial reporting has become).

Given these poor results, the blogosphere is awash with analysts telling us that they saw this coming. This is hardly something to brag about because it was so plainly obvious.

It’s also very easy to blame this on what Samsung does not possess; that is software and services. This is equally trivial to do. Giving a sound explanation of why Samsung is now in trouble, does not suggest that you have a clue about what is happening. Anybody can do that. It’s like saying the reason the New York Yankees are pretty weak right now is because their batters aren’t hitting the ball well.

To suggest that you really understand what is going on, you need to provide a coherent explanation of why Samsung was very strong a few years ago, and why it is now starting to fail. This explanation must consider that Samsung itself is mostly doing exactly the same things that there were before. Hence this explanation should not focus on factors that are internal to Samsung, but are external.

Hence the following explanations fail to suggest that the analyst who made them has a clue;

  1. Marketing as a reason for Samsung’s success: Strong marketing is no doubt a reason for Samsung’s ascent to dominance. However Samsung has not relaxed its marketing focus. Unless we have a good explanation of why Samsung’s marketing is no longer effective (external factors), it doesn’t explain the situation.
  2. Software & Services: Samsung is weak in software and services, but it has always been like this. In fact, Samsung knows this and has invested heavily into making itself better in software & services. The lack of strength in software & services does not explain Samsung’s problems because Samsung rose to dominance without them in the first place. Instead, we need an explanation of why software & services matter more than they used to or why Samsung’s efforts have become meaningless.
  3. Cheap Chinese vendors: There have always been cheap Chinese vendors. Hence their presence itself does not explain anything. What has changed is that the Chinese vendors are now capable of creating products that rival Samsung’s in both quality and price at the lower-end of the market. What we need to understand is why the Chinese can now do this whereas they couldn’t do so before.

Clayton Christensen’s theories explain all of these. That’s why I lean on them.

In this context, what is interesting in Samsung’s report is actually the following;

Profit at Samsung’s chip unit, which supplies its own devices and also rivals such as Apple, nearly doubled to 2.1 trillion won on sales of 9.5 trillion won, according to the Bloomberg News analyst survey.

According the “the law of conservation of attractive profits”, as smartphone production becomes more modular allowing new entrants into the market, the attractive profits will shift to somewhere else in the value chain. Although not certain at this point, it is likely that component suppliers will be one of the stages where the attractive profits will accumulate. If so, Samsung’s chip unit may profit (although there is intense competition here as well).

It will be interesting to see how the component industry (Samsung’s chip business, MediaTek, etc.) does in the next few years.