The answer is Samsung, by a wide margin. The company’s valuation has more than doubled in the last two years. Apple’s gain has been half that.
While Samsung is often compared with Apple, because they are the two largest smartphone brands, Samsung is more a combination of Apple, Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC) and Foxconn, the Apple manufacturing partner whose full name is Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd. (OTCMKTS:HNHPF).
Last year Samsung had sales of almost $174 billion, about 240 trillion Korean won. It usually brings one won in six to its net income line.
The question is, buy or sell?
Reasons to Buy Samsung
Samsung persists in markets when rivals give up. It is continuing to sell the Gear VR virtual reality headset while rivals have walked away. It’s still a player in watches and digital health despite a lack of profits.
As the smartphone business tops out — today’s phones aren’t radically different from those of five years ago — Samsung’s advantages in producing its own chips are coming to the fore.
SSNLF would like to be a software company, but it remains dependent on Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOGL, NASDAQ:GOOG) Android for that, despite repeated attempts to break out, most notably with its own Tizen operating system. It has not given up on Tizen, either.
Sometimes banging your head against a wall leads to a breakthrough. Other times it just leads to a sore head.
Reasons to Sell Samsung
There are reasons to be leery of Samsung, especially at its current price.
Samsung has been embroiled in a scandal in its home country for over a year. President Jay Y. Lee was sentenced to five years in prison in August, and the scandal also brought down a South Korean President and four other major Samsung executives. The country’s former President is even going to prison over it.
Lee himself wound up serving only months and has returned to work. At the company’s annual meeting in March, management agreed to split the stock 50-1, which would put it at about $44 per share once the split goes through, with a share count of 6.9 billion, about 2 billion more than Apple’s.
Samsung acts like the scandal is just another business problem. Acknowledge it, promise change, but move on — especially, the move on part.
Another problem for Samsung stockholders is China, where Tsinghua Unigroup has now acquired a majority of XMC, the country’s largest chip manufacturer, with the aim of cutting the country’s semiconductor trade deficit.
Samsung is squarely caught in the middle as Chinese-American trade tensions rise.
The U.S. actions against Chinese companies like ZTE Corp/ADR (OTCMKTS:ZTCOY) and Huawei clearly benefit Samsung in the U.S. market. But it reduces Samsung’s usefulness as a bridge for Chinese firms, and its share of the China phone market has collapsed. It loses more than it gains in that trade.
Despite the tensions, Samsung continues to invest heavily in Chinese production capacity. It persists in taking a long view, and it may get punished for that.
The Bottom Line on SSNLF Stock
Samsung’s persistence in the face of internal and external problems has allowed it to more than double its market cap in just the last two years. Its market cap of $206 billion is still short of that of America’s cloud czars, and even short of Intel’s $242 billion, but it keeps going up.
If SSNLF stock is going to keep rising, the company still needs to get straight with regulators in its home market, deal with China, and come up with more true innovation to challenge the market leaders.
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of the historical mystery romance, The Reluctant Detective Travels in Time, available now at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing, he owned no shares in companies mentioned in this story.