Samsung Electronics had another massive earnings bonanza in the fourth quarter, delivering solid growth in profits driven by its smartphone sales. However, according to analysts, Samsung lost its quarterly smartphone crown to Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), which sold a record 37 million iPhones in the quarter. Analysts estimated Samsung shipped around 36 million smartphones in the quarter.
On a company-wide basis, the electronics conglomerate's net profit rose 17 percent to $3.56 billion and total sales jumped 13 percent to $42.1 billion. Samsung's telecommunications business, which comprises both is handset and network units, saw its sales rise 52 percent from the year-ago period to $15.88 billion, and overall mobile sales rose 54 percent to $15.32 billion.
Samsung has not reported its specific handset and smartphone shipments for several quarters now, so it is difficult to know where exactly it stands among the likes of Apple and Nokia (NYSE:NOK). However, according to research firm Strategy Analytics, Samsung shipped a total of 95 million handsets in the fourth quarter, up from 80.7 million in the year-ago period, and placing it second behind Nokia's 113.5 million.
In smartphones, Samsung did say that its shipments were up 30 percent from the third quarter, which given Strategy Analytics third-quarter estimate of 27.8 million units would give Samsung 36.14 million. As it stands, Strategy Analytics officially said Samsung shipped 36.5 million smartphones in the quarter, just behind Apple, meaning Samsung's smartphones accounted for close to 40 percent of its total handset shipments. The company said its average selling price increased from the third quarter, but it did not give specifics, and said sales of high-end devices such as the Galaxy S II shined alongside more mass-market devices including the Galaxy Ace.
Though Apple took the No. 1 spot in global smartphone sales in the second quarter, Samsung passed it in the third quarter. Many had expected Samsung to retain its No. 1 position in the fourth quarter, but Apple's surprisingly strong fourth-quarter results pushed it past Samsung in terms of smartphone sales.
Looking ahead to 2012, Samsung said it expects the overall handset market to increase by a high single-digit percentage, and for the smartphone market to grow 30 percent over 2011. The company also said it expects the tablet market to grow "significantly" year-over-year, but that competition will intensify due to more mass market devices, which could be an allusion to devices such as Amazon's Kindle Fire.
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