Samsung Electronics Co's disappointing earnings guidance sparked slowdown worries as prices of its key products slide, hitting shares and ending the technology group's run of record quarterly performances.
The world's largest memory chipmaker, which has a tradition of beating even the most bullish estimates, faces a tough outlook as a fragile world economy has hit demand for TVs and computers.
The International Monetary Fund expects global growth to slow to 4.2 percent next year from a forecast of 4.8 percent for this this year, dragged by advanced economies.
Samsung, also the world's No.2 maker of mobile phones and the No.1 maker of LCDs, estimated its July-September operating profit and sales to come below market consensus.
"LCD (liquid crystal display) and TV performance appears to be worse than expected and the downward pressure on earnings will only grow as chip prices are also falling and TV makers increase price cuts," said Chung Young-woo, an analyst at Korea Investment & Securities.
"Usual uptick in seasonal year-end demand will be smaller this time and an earnings recovery is unlikely until early next year."
Samsung, the first major global technology firm to flag preliminary September quarter results, might set the benchmark for technology investors with Intel and Advanced Micro Devices reporting numbers next week.
Samsung has performed strongly over chip rival Micron and held on to its No. 1 slot in TVs against Sony Corp and Panasonic.
Shares in Samsung, Asia's most valuable technology firm worth $116 billion, closed 2.9 percent lower, lagging a 0.2 percent drop in Korea's KOSPI .KS11.
Samsung, worth three times more than No.1 handset maker Nokia and its key TV rival Sony, dropped 1 percent this year to Wednesday's close, underperforming KOSPI's 13 percent rise.
"Earnings will slide further but the stock is looking attractive as the slowdown is already priced in and Samsung will benefit most from any demand recovery, being the No.1 in many areas," said Jung Sang-jin, a fund manager at Dongbu Asset Management.
Jung has been increasing Samsung shares to the company's portfolio since last week.
After a weak start, Samsung is challenging Apple Inc with its Galaxy S high-end smartphone, powered by Google's Android software. It has sold more than 5 million units since its June launch.
Samsung is also launching its Galaxy Tab tablet, seen by analysts as the strongest rival to Apple's iPad so far.
The heavy investment highlights an aggressive push toward new technology by Lee Kun-hee, who returned as Samsung chairman in March.
Samsung has benefited from strong demand from China and as improved corporate spending boosted sales of memory chips and flat screens, but smartphone sales stayed weak.
"It looks like Samsung will face more downside in the fourth quarter and into the first quarter of next year in terms of sales, said Michael On, managing director at Beyond Asset Management in Taipei.
On Thursday, Samsung estimated its third-quarter operating profit at a median 4.8 trillion won ($4.3 billion) of 4.6 and 5.0 trillion won range, lower than a consensus forecast of 5.2 trillion won polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
That would be down 4 percent from the previous record of 5 trillion won in the preceding quarter but up 14 percent from the 4.2 trillion won reported a year ago. Samsung reports quarterly results in late October.
Sales were estimated at 40 trillion won versus consensus of 42 trillion. Profit from its chips division is set to account for nearly 70 percent of Samsung's total profit in the third quarter.
CHIP PRICES FALL
Analysts forecast Samsung's profit to shrink to around 4 trillion won in the current quarter and stay around that level till the second quarter of next year due to weak prices of chips and flat screens.
Dynamic random access memory prices, mainly used in computers, have fallen more than 20 percent from its peak in May and may drop another 20 percent this quarter, as PC sales growth has declined.
A wobbly global economy is also hitting sales of TVs, discount computers and laptops, which together account for the majority of large-sized LCD panels, and investors are now worried demand could slow further as China tightens its economic policy.
Most analysts expect Samsung's LCD profit margins to fall further to around break-even level in the fourth quarter from an estimated 4 percent in the third quarter.
Its TV division faces increased competition and weak demand might force it to slash prices and hit sales of premium products such as LED-backlit LCD models and 3D sets.