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Samsung sales drop 13%, signaling continued chip slump

Samsung Electronics Co. reported its fourth straight quarterly sales decline, reflecting the severity of a sector-wide slump that continues to weigh on the world’s biggest maker of memory chips.

South Korea’s largest company said sales fell about 13% to 67 trillion won ($50 billion) in the three months to September. Analysts had on average expected a 12% decline. Operating profit came to 2.4 trillion won, in line with estimates for a 78% fall.

Samsung has been struggling with an industry downturn alongside smaller rivals SK Hynix Inc. and Micron Technology Inc. Mainstay customers, including makers of personal computers and smartphones, have been cutting orders to deal with weak demand for gadgets and excess inventory of chips.

Wednesday’s report of Samsung’s preliminary sales and profit comes days after the US granted the company and Hynix an exemption to acquire the equipment they need to sustain and expand their chipmaking operations in China. That’s lifted some uncertainty hanging over the two memory leaders, allowing them to operate in the world’s biggest chip arena over the longer term.

“This eliminates any doubt regarding the operations and production of Korean memory suppliers in China,” CLSA Securities Korea analyst Sanjeev Rana said prior to the announcement. “With an indefinite waiver in place, Samsung and SK Hynix should be able to boost the competitiveness of their Chinese fabrications and make long-term investment plans.”Samsung now seeks to position itself to benefit from a long-anticipated AI-related boom in tech spending, fueled by investor and consumer excitement over OpenAI’s ChatGPT debut last fall.

The two South Korean chipmakers are locked in a race to develop tools needed to train AI, with bigger Samsung now playing catchup to Hynix, the sole-supplier of next-generation DRAM to AI chipmaker Nvidia Corp. Samsung has said it plans to double its capacity to make high-bandwidth memory, which has the capacity needed to speed up AI training, by 2024.

Until that demand kicks in, Samsung and Hynix have said they will weather economic uncertainty by cutting output of NAND chips used in PCs and phones. That’s helped support prices of both DRAM and NAND, in a sign that the market may at long last be bottoming out.

The company, a bellwether for the tech industry because of its leading position in chips, electronics and smartphones, will report a more comprehensive snapshot of its earnings later this month. Samsung previously said that it expected a recovery in sales in the second half of the year.

Samsung is also trying to catch up in the foundry business, where it trails Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Quarterly sales at TSMC fell less than feared, thanks to nascent demand from AI players.

Investors are looking to the tech industry’s largest companies for hints on when orders for AI chips will translate into sales, but climbing inflation and geopolitical turbulence are clouding forecasts.

Samsung is a stalwart of a memory sector that built capacity rapidly to meet pandemic-fueled demand. The company spent well into the downturn, saddling itself and its biggest customers with bulging inventories. Bloomberg

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