By Joyce Lee
SEOUL (Reuters) - Samsung Electronics (KS:005930) Co Ltd said on Friday its third-quarter operating profit likely nearly tripled from a year earlier to a new record, beating analyst estimates as strong memory chip prices fattened margins.
Samsung shares touched a fresh high of 2.74 million won soon after the market opened on Friday, on hopes for record 2017 earnings driven by soaring demand for memory chips with ever greater storage capacity.
"Memory chips have entered a brave new world. The rate of supply increase has slowed drastically, while demand has exceeded expectations, rapidly lifting prices," said Kim Woon-ho, analyst at IBK Investment & Securities.
"Although the share price has recently seen steep jumps, it still doesn't reflect all the forecast profit increases."
Brisk sales of the latest Galaxy Note 8 smartphone, launched in mid-September, lifted mobile profit as Samsung recovered from last year's costly withdrawal of the fire-prone Note 7 device, analysts said.
Samsung is also expected to announce a new shareholder return policy for the next three years as soon as the end of October, when it releases third-quarter results.
It is seen ramping up returns to a level higher than its current 50 percent of free cash flow, supporting its stock valuation, analysts said.
The Apple Inc (NASDAQ:AAPL) smartphone rival and global memory chip leader said third-quarter operating profit was likely 14.5 trillion won ($12.81 billion), compared with the 14.3 trillion won average of 20 analyst estimates in a Thomson Reuters poll.
Revenue likely rose 29.7 percent from a year earlier to 62 trillion won, versus the analysts' average forecast of 62.1 trillion won.
Samsung did not elaborate on its July-September performance and will disclose detailed results at the end of October. Analysts have tipped its chip division to propel the firm to record overall profit.
Strong global demand for DRAM chips will continue to outpace supply in 2018 as new plants from Samsung and No. 2 memory chip maker SK Hynix are not expected to operate until 2019, while demand for NAND flash chips exceeded supply for six straight quarters as of last month, DRAMeXchange, a division of data provider TrendForce, said.
Growing sales of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) smartphone screens for new Apple smartphones also have supported forecasts of a new earnings record in the fourth quarter.
Pre-orders for the Note 8 hit the highest-ever for the Note series, Samsung previously said.
Samsung shares were trading down 0.8 percent at 0022 GMT as investors booked profits, while the broader market was flat.
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