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Samsung makes $50B in 2017 despite leadership crisis

The spectre of the Note 7 and the jailing of its de facto leader didn't appear to slow Samsung Electronics from making $50 billion in profit last year.

Josh Miller/CNET

Samsung has suffered some losses over the last 18 months, but it just recorded a huge win: In 2017, it made an operating profit of 53.6 trillion Korean won ($50 billion), way up from the 29.2 trillion won ($27 billion) it made in 2016. 

The number was announced Tuesday along with Samsung's Q4 2017 financial results, which track the company's performance from October through the end of December. Samsung profited 15.15 trillion won ($14 billion) during Q4, up from the 9.22 trillion ($8.6 billion) won profit in the same quarter in 2016.

Samsung said its growth was mainly propelled by its components business, particularly thanks to memory cards used in servers and mobile devices. Meanwhile, shipments for OLED screens were up, surely thanks in no small part to Samsung selling millions of screens to Apple for the iPhone X, though profitability on LCD displays were down. 

Samsung's mobile business was slightly down compared to Q3 2017. While premium products like the Galaxy Note 8 were up compared to last year, total shipments declined due to lower sales of the company's budget and midrange offerings. Plus, it was noted that heavy marketing cut into the division's profits during the fourth quarter.

Still, revenue for Samsung's mobile unit is up compared to the same quarter in 2016: It made 25.47 trillion won in Q4 2017, compared to 23.61 trillion in Q4 2016. 

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The revenue and profit growth of 2017 is especially meaningful for Samsung. It indicates the company has well and truly rebounded from the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco of 2016, which saw billions of dollars lost due to phone recalls following some units overheating and catching flame. The company's strong Q3 and Q4 performance also comes despite Jay Y. Lee, Samsung Electronics' de facto leader, being jailed in August following a bribery scandal, and Vice President and CEO Kwon Oh-hyun stepping down amid what he called an "unprecedented crisis."

The South Korean giant expects smartphone demand to be greater in 2018 due to "growing replacement demands" for premium phones. Samsung said it'd be setting itself apart by focusing on improving its phone cameras -- which its marketing for the upcoming Galaxy S9 range already indicates -- and on Bixby, its smart assistant. 

This runs contrary to reports that Apple has cut its iPhone X production in half, from 40 million to 20 million, for Q1 of 2018. We may get more word on that in the coming days, with Apple, Samsung's greatest competitor in the phone game, announcing its Q4 results on Thursday.

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