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Samsung expects tough 2019 as memory segment stalls

Shareholders voice concern about competition from Chinese chipmakers

Samsung Electronics co-CEO Kim Ki-nam warned of a difficult 2019, but said the company may rebound after inventory adjustments later this year.   © AP

SEOUL -- Samsung Electronics told a packed crowd of shareholders to brace for a rough 2019, as these investors grilled executives on March 20 about the company's slumping memory business and measures to improve competitiveness.

"We are expecting many difficulties this year, such as slowing growth in major economies and risks over global trade conflicts," Vice Chairman and co-CEO Kim Ki-nam, who took over the semiconductor segment this year, said at the annual shareholders meeting.

The South Korean technology giant's consolidated operating profit plunged 29% on the year in the October-December period, the first quarterly decline in two years, due to weak demand for memory chips. The memory segment generates over 70% of the company's consolidated operating profit.

Kim, who chaired the meeting, said demand would rebound after inventory adjustments are completed.

One shareholder asked whether the company could compete with growing Chinese chipmakers. Kim replied that given the industry's high technological barriers to entry, Samsung can remain highly competitive by advancing research and development along with making bold investments.

The group's de facto leader, Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, did not attend the annual meeting as usual. No shareholders asked or gave their opinions about his role in the bribery scandal involving ousted South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

Attendance soared by about 150% from last year to over 1,000 people, due to a 50-to-1 stock split in May that made it easier for retail investors to own Samsung stock. Many shareholders were unable to enter the meeting even after it began at 9 a.m. The company issued an apology on its homepage on the afternoon of March 20.

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