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Apple, Samsung gobble all 2012 handset profits, and then some

Canaccord Genuity believes Samsung lost market share to Apple in the fourth quarter but should gain share this period given a possible Galaxy S4 launch by the end of March.

Samsung and Apple continue to dominate mobile industry profits.
Apple and Samsung are still at it.

The two companies again dominated the handset industry's profits, according to Canaccord Genuity analyst T. Michael Walkley. They generated 101 percent of profits in the fourth quarter, he estimates, and 103 percent in the calendar year.

"Given the current competitive dynamics, we believe Apple and Samsung will maintain dominant value share during Q1/13 with share gains for Samsung versus Apple expected in Q1/13," Walkley noted.

This trend has been going on for quite some time and reflects the struggles of other handset vendors. Many have been posting losses as consumers seek out rivals' devices.

While there have been worries about slowing growth at Apple and Samsung, their operations and results still dwarf those of BlackBerry, Nokia, Motorola Mobility, and others. Samsung did warn last month that competition will be tougher this year and smartphone growth will be lower, but it's unclear how much share rivals will be able to gain.

As far as industry profits go, Apple likely had 72 percent share in the period, up sequentially from 59 percent, Walkley said. For the year, its profit share was 69 percent. Apple also likely gained smartphone unit share during the calendar fourth quarter (10 percent versus 6.3 percent in the calendar third quarter), but it should lose a bit this quarter, Walkley said.

"For Q1/13, we believe Apple's softer than anticipated March quarter guidance was due to Apple ramping supply of the iPhone 5 during the December quarter to slightly higher than anticipated inventory levels combined with the potential for an earlier-than-usual product transition during 1H/C2013 for the iPhone," he said.

However, Walkley said the drop in Apple's stock price presents a good buying opportunity. He expects the company's "industry-leading software and its leading hardware expertise" will result in strong multiyear product cycles for its key devices.

Samsung, meanwhile, likely lost overall share to Apple during the fourth quarter, but it remained the top-selling handset maker with 24 percent share, down from 25.6 percent in the third quarter. Samsung also likely was the top-selling smartphone maker with 28.9 percent share during Q4, down from 32.3 percent in Q3.

But Samsung should grow its market share and extend its lead over rivals during the current quarter as the Galaxy S4 phone launches by the end of March, Walkley said.

Samsung has not yet provided details about the new device, and it's unclear when it will hit store shelves. Some recent speculation has pegged the release date to April, and a report from Samsung rumor site SamMobile today speculated Samsung will unveil the device at its own event on March 15. The Galaxy S3 launched last May.

In terms of profits, Samsung controlled 29 percent during the fourth quarter and 34 percent for all of 2012.

Walkley expects first-quarter handset sales to be seasonally weak

Updated at 8:30 a.m. PT with details about possible March 15 event for Galaxy S4, as well as information about handset vendors' losses.