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Samsung Electronics' first quarter operating profit guidance surpassed estimates on Tuesday, and analysts say this could be the "first glimpse of a turnaround" for the struggling tech giant.
The company forecast operating profit of 5.9 trillion won ($5.43 billion) for the first quarter, above expectations of 5.3 trillion won in a Reuters poll but down sharply from 8.5 trillion a year earlier.
The better-than-expected guidance suggests its chip-making business remains strong, smartphone sales are picking up and cost-cutting initiatives are paying off, according to analysts.
"Samsung is seeing strength in memory and is expected to see strength in handsets. The preliminary views of the Galaxy S6 are pretty positive. It is significantly classier than Galaxy S5 so people are thinking it will probably do fairly well," Edward Synder, co-founder and managing director of Charter Equity Research told CNBC on Tuesday.
Samsung forecast revenue of 47 trillion won for the January-March period, below expectations of 49.8 trillion and down from 53.7 trillion a year earlier. That marked the sixth straight quarter of revenue decline. Official first-quarter results are due around the end of April.
Eye on the Galaxy S6
Samsung's earnings guidance comes days before the global launch of its flagship its new flagship Galaxy S6 and S6 edge smartphone on April 10. The company is leaning on its latest line of Galaxy phones to revive flagging smartphone sales.
Faced with stiff competition on both the low and high end of the price spectrum, Samsung has been losing its stranglehold on the smartphone market. Its share of worldwide smartphone sales plunged to 19.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, down from 29.5 percent in the same period a year earlier, according to Gartner.
The company's market share loss manifested in the performance of its share price, which went on a rollercoaster ride in 2014, only to end the year down 3 percent.
Investors, however, appear to have warmed up to the company's stock in recent months, sending it up 11 percent so far this year.
Snyder is hopeful the stock has further to run.
"We're just seeing the first glimpse of a turnaround. If Galaxy 6S unit sales are very strong and [there's] continued demand on both memory and apps processors and the market behaves – which is a big if – I think you could go into a pretty strong summer," he said, forecasting 10 percent upside in the short term.
Kunal Ghosh, emerging market portfolio manager at Allianz Global Investors, who is also bullish on Samsung, says he wouldn't take profits on the stock just yet.
"If anything, we might even add [to positions] from here," he said. "Samsung is firing on a few cylinders. According to channel checks, we're hearing whispers of S6 being a hot product… the DRAM space [has] been doing well."
Marc Einstein, industry principal, ICT Practice, Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific, however, is skeptical that the better-than-expected guidance signals a turnaround in the company's fortunes.
"I think Samsung's operating profit is higher than estimates because they did better than expected in certain segments, such as smartphones and panel displays, but it doesn't improve the overall outlook for the company," he said.
Smartphones, for example, are very seasonable business so it is not uncommon to see an upside surprise in sales, he noted.
The bottom line, Einstein says, is "Samsung still has a huge problem with competition and they are very behind the game in wearables and other things."