SEOUL, April 5 (Reuters) - Samsung Electronics, the iPhone's main adversary, estimated its January-March operating profit rose 53 percent to 8.7 trillion won ($7.7 billion) as sales of mid-tier smartphones helped the South Korean giant tide over the off-peak season.
The guidance, released ahead of full quarterly results by April 26, was better than an average forecast for 8.3 trillion won in a poll of 42 analysts by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
That marks the end of five straight quarters of record profits for the world's biggest technology firm by revenue. But analysts say earnings will hit a new high in the current quarter as Samsung's Galaxy S IV smartphone hits the market this month.
The Galaxy S and Note series have fuelled Samsung's record-breaking earnings growth and made it the No.2 player in the global premium smartphone segment after Apple Inc. But as the high-end market swarms with new offerings, Samsung is turning to less affluent customers in emerging markets, offering cheaper models such as the Rex and Galaxy Pop, analysts said.
Samsung capitalised on its 30-plus smartphone models that cover nearly all price points to boost shipments to a record in the first quarter while the post-year end holiday season sapped sales at chief rival Apple, according to the analysts.
Samsung, valued at around $220 billion, estimated its first-quarter sales at 52.0 trillion won, versus a market forecast for 53.0 trillion won.
The South Korean firm likely sold 68-70 million smartphones, up from 63 million in the December quarter, according to five analysts.
By comparison, Apple's iPhone shipments likely slumped some 30 percent to the 30 million range from 47.8 million in the previous quarter, they said.
Shares in Samsung, worth around $220 billion, fell 3 percent over the past three months, beating a 2 percent drop in the wider market. Apple lost 19 percent in the same period.