Samsung had seen record profits over the previous year and a half thanks to a boom in smart devices around the world, but recent months have seen a major dropoff in smartphone demand.
Samsung - the world's top maker of smartphones and memory chips - has enjoyed record profits in recent years despite a series of setbacks, including a humiliating recall and the jailing of its de facto chief.
The South Korean company's operating income fell to 10.8 trillion won ($9.6 billion) in the period that ended in December, according to preliminary results released Tuesday, falling short of the 13.8 trillion-won average of analysts' estimates compiled by Bloomberg.
The company is also expected to record revenue of 59 trillion won ($52.8 billion), a decline of almost 15 percent from a year earlier.
"We expect earnings to remain subdued in the first quarter of 2019 due to hard conditions for the memory business", the South Korean tech giant said in a statement. The company has reportedly experienced lower-than-demand for memory chips from its data centre customers, according to CNBC. "And China's overall smartphone market is stalled and declining, which will affect not only Apple but Samsung", Song Myung-sup, a senior analyst at HI Investment & Securities, told Reuters.
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Shares in Samsung Electronics, the flagship subsidiary of the Samsung Group that dominates South Korea's economy, were down 0.4 percent in mid-morning trading.
The shock warning added to concerns about the broader tech sector after Apple sent shudders through world markets last week by slashing its revenue forecast blaming weak sales in China and citing the trade war.
Samsung's memory and processor chips, which account for over three-quarters of its earnings and about 38 percent of sales, power smartphones including those from China's biggest handset maker Huawei Technologies Co. The South Korean giant will announce more details later on this month alongside its full Q4 2018 report. The world's largest smartphone maker by shipment has been increasingly dependent on chips for profit growth, riding on a spike in global data traffic while yielding to stiffer competition for phones.
"The most important thing from here is for the pace of decline in chip prices to slow, which I expect will happen in the second quarter".
But Lee was released from jail in February a year ago after several of his convictions were quashed on appeal.