The Law of Conservation of Attractive Profits and Samsung’s Record Quarter

It is being reported that Samsung will soon report a record quarter for its semiconductor business, taking it past even Intel for the first time ever. This is not totally unexpected and is an continuation of a upward trend that started back in 2014. It is also an expected consequence of the modularisation of the smartphone hardware industry as a whole, following a theory that Clayton Christensen originally coined “The Law of Conservation of Attractive Profits”. I have mentioned this quite a few times on this blog as well.

  1. Will Attractive Profits in the Android Ecosystem Move to Component Makers?
  2. More on Attractive Profits in the Cloud
  3. Android OEMs and The Law Of Conservation Of Attractive Profits
  4. The Law of Conservation of Attractive Profits And Personal Computing
  5. Google and the Law of Conservation of Attractive Profits

In a nutshell, the component manufacturers that can produce differentiated products will earn very good profits as the smartphone market becomes more modularised. This is similar to how Intel dominated CPUs during the PC era. 

This does not require near-monopoly power, and so this is what we are also seeing component manufacturers like MediaTek, Qualcomm and even Sony’s semiconductor business showing strong earnings, whereas on the other hand, almost all handset makers are struggling.

Going forward, I expect that the component industry as a whole will show strong profits and earnings. However the market is very competitive, and only those with competitive offerings will reap the benefits. This shifts the balance heavily towards already established incumbents, namely Samsung. Similar to how Intel successfully fended off the threat from AMD using Celerons, I doubt that cheap Chinese semiconductor players will ever unseat them, unless we again see an innovation like the smartphone which will disrupt the whole ecosystem.

  • obarthelemy

    Isn’t Samsung’s Mobile Phones division also making record profits (gNote industrial accident aside) ?
    Aren’t some other Mobile Phones companies doing well ?
    Aren’t some component-focused companies not faring that well ?

    I think there’s selection bias going on here (as with most business theories). And probably a bit of random- or over-thinking. The components vs device situation can also be explained via good ol’ barriers to entry ?

    • Regarding Samsung’s mobile business, the numbers for the past quarter I believe are yet to be announced. However previous quarters strongly suggest that they are not doing nearly as well as the semiconductors.

      Regarding other mobile phone companies, they aren’t generating much profits, which is my point. Some companies can get along fine with razor thin profits, so depending on how you see it, some are doing OK.

      And regarding component companies that aren’t doing well. As I mentioned, there is a lot of competition so that surely happens. However, this does not change the situation that the semiconductor component business is where the Attractive profits are being made.