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Samsung reveals leadership shake-up

Samsung reveals leadership shake-up

The tech powerhouse replaces the leaders of its three main businesses

South Korean technology giant, Samsung, has named a new generation of top managers and promised to reward shareholders with US$26 billion in payouts to 2020, as it reported record third-quarter profit.

The world's biggest maker of semiconductors, televisions and smartphones replaced the leaders of its three main businesses, named CFO Lee Sang-hoon as the likely new board chairman, and said veteran co-CEOs J.K. Shin and Yoon Boo-keun would resign.

The shake-up at South Korea's biggest company is designed to ease investors' concerns about a leadership vacuum following the arrest and conviction of group heir Jay Y. Lee on bribery charges earlier this year.

"It's a younger generation of leaders, but the divisional structure has not fundamentally changed," said Park Ju-gun, head of research firm CEO Score.

The new appointees are all long-serving Samsung insiders whose elevations suggest continuity rather than any new direction at the US$348 billion company.

Kim Ki-nam, 59, was appointed to lead the Device Solutions division which makes components including memory chips, the major driver of the firm's record third-quarter profit of 14.5 trillion won (US$12.91 billion).

Park Jung-hoon, a fund manager at HDC Asset Management which holds Samsung Electronics shares, said there had been "some concerns" that Kim would move to expand chip capacity and upset the currently favourable supply-demand balance.

"However, today's (post-earnings call with analysts) said the chips business will focus on profitability, not market share - suggesting they will continue the current course without deviation, which put our minds to rest," he said.

In other appointments, Samsung said Koh Dong-jin, 56, would head IT and Mobile Communications, and Kim Hyun-suk, 56, would lead Consumer Electronics. The changes were effective immediately.

Doubling down

Samsung said it would double dividends next year to 9.6 trillion won and keep them at that level until 2020, as it responds to investor pressure to share its vast cash reserves and catch up with some of its more generous peers.

It also said 2017 capital expenditure would be its biggest ever, climbing 81 per cent to 46.2 trillion won (US$41 billion) as it builds new chip factories and clean-rooms to stay ahead of demand for servers and devices with ever greater memory.

Third-quarter operating profit nearly tripled from the same period a year earlier, matching Samsung's earlier estimate. Revenue jumped 29.8 per cent to 62 trillion won, also in line with its earlier estimate.

The shareholder return policy for the next three years ramped up guidance to a level higher than its current range of 30-50 per cent of free cash flow to 50 per cent over three years.

Samsung's holdings of cash and cash equivalent stood at 76 trillion won at the end of September, eight percent higher than the previous quarter.

While the dividend policy builds on the investor-friendly trend Samsung started in 2015, it was not as generous as some investors had hoped, analysts said.

Apple has paid nearly 22 cents for every dollar it earned over the past five years, while Microsoft has shared 53 cents. Meanwhile Samsung has paid just 11 cents, according to Reuters data.

South Korean family-run business empires like Samsung Group have a reputation for low dividend payouts and other governance practices that favour controlling shareholders at the expense of ordinary investors.

Samsung shares closed up 1.9 per cent, while the Kospi benchmark share price index rose 0.9 per cent. The stock has risen 71 per cent over the past 12 months.

Samsung said the earnings outlook was positive with the chips market likely to "remain favourable" in 2018.

Profits from mobile devices jumped to 3.3 trillion won compared with just 100 billion won at the same time last year, when the company booked the costs of the withdrawal of its fire-prone Note 7 gadget.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Stephen Coates)


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