* Q4 operating profit estimated at record 8.8 trln won
* Q4 sales estimated at 56 trln won
* Analysts predict handset division profit at 5.8 trln won
* Strong handset pipeline, chip recovery to lift 2013 profit
* Shares open 1 pct lower
SEOUL, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Samsung Electronics,
the world leader in mobiles and memory chips, said it likely
earned a quarterly profit of $8.3 billion, as it sold close to
500 handsets every minute and as demand picked up for the flat
screens it makes for mobile devices, including those for rival
Apple Inc products.
That run of five straight record quarters may end in
January-March on weak seasonal demand, though a strong pipeline
of smartphones - the South Korean group's biggest earner - and
improving chip prices have eased concerns that earnings growth
could slow this year, powering Samsung shares to record levels.
While Apple rolled out just a single new smartphone, the
iPhone 5, last year globally, Samsung bombarded the market with
37 variants tweaked for regional and consumer tastes, from
high-end smartphones to cheaper low-end models. By comparison,
Taiwan's HTC Corp released 18 models, Nokia
9 and LG Electronics 24.
Samsung, valued at close to $230 billion, gave its
October-December earnings guidance on Tuesday, ahead of the full
earnings release expected by Jan. 25.
A HIGH NOTE
Shipments of Samsung's flagship Galaxy S III, which overtook
the iPhone 4S in the third quarter to become the world's
best-selling smartphone, are likely to have slipped to around 15
million in the last quarter from 18 million in July-September.
But estimated sales of around 8 million Galaxy Note II
phone-cum-tablets, or 'phablets', should more than make up for
that - pushing overall smartphone shipments to around 63
million, analysts estimate.
"The Note was selling well, boosting fourth-quarter profit,
while iPhone 5 sales were less than expected," said Song
Myung-sub, an analyst at HI Investment & Securities.
"Samsung's profit will drop in the current quarter because
of decreased phone profits. It will launch its next Galaxy S
model only in March or April so, without new models, phone sales
prices will fall in the current quarter. For the whole year,
Samsung will launch new models faster than Apple and will
continue to have the upper hand in the smartphone market."
There has been increased speculation that Samsung will
launch the next version of its Galaxy S in the first quarter,
possibly with an unbreakable screen and full high-definition
quality resolution boasting 440 pixels per inch, as well as a
better camera and a more powerful processor.
"Samsung's smartphone shipments are likely to grow even in a
seasonally weak first quarter. The early launch of the Galaxy S
IV would drive second-quarter growth momentum," said BNP Paribas
Securities analyst Peter Yu, who predicts Samsung's 2013
operating profit will grow 25 percent to almost $35 billion.Yu
was speaking ahead of the company's guidance on Tuesday.
Samsung is forecast to raise its smartphone sales by 35
percent and widen its lead over Apple this year, driven by its
diversified product line-up, said Neil Mawston, Executive
Director at market researcher Strategy Analytics, which
forecasts Samsung will sell 290 million smartphones this year,
up from a projected 215 million in 2012.
Apple's smartphone sales are projected to reach 180 million
this year, up by a third from last year's 135 million.
Kim Sung-in, an analyst at Kiwoom Securities, predicted
Samsung would ship 320 million smartphones this year and sales
of its tablets would double to 32 million. "Although seasonal
demand is weak in the first quarter, I expect Samsung's sales
will exceed 53 trillion won and operating profit to be around
8.3 trillion won because of demand for semiconductor and IT
products," Kim said.
Samsung said its October-December operating profit jumped 89
percent to 8.8 trillion won from a year ago, a Reuters survey of
16 analysts showed. That is 8.6 percent higher than its previous
record of 8.1 trillion won in July-September.
Analysts expect profits from the mobile division to increase
slightly to around 5.8 trillion won from the previous quarter's
5.63 trillion won - and more than double from last year's level.
A recovery in chip prices and flat screens should also have
boosted component earnings, propelled by booming sales of
mobiles carrying Samsung's chips, micro-processors and flat
Reflecting the upbeat outlook, shares in Samsung, Asia's
most valuable technology stock, last week hit a life high of
1.584 million won ($1,500). The stock gained 44 percent in 2012,
easily outpacing a 9 percent rise on the broader Korean market
and topping Apple's 31 percent increase.
The shares were down around 0.9 percent in early trading on
Samsung, LG Electronics and four Taiwan companies were last
week fined millions of dollars for allegedly manipulating liquid
crystal display panel prices in China in 2001-06, the state-run
news agency Xinhua reported.