The global smartphone market is taking a breather.
With inflation lifting the cost of daily necessities like gasoline and food, many phone owners are sticking with their current models longer, according to industry executives. Companies are making fewer phones and fewer phone parts, and they are planning for a further rough patch ahead.
China’s Xiaomi Corp., the world’s third-largest smartphone maker after Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co., said Friday that it shipped 26% fewer smartphones in the April-to-June quarter compared with a year earlier, and smartphone-related revenue fell 28% to the equivalent of $6.2 billion.
Xiaomi cited shrinking consumer demand in China, which had pandemic-related lockdowns in the quarter, as well as rising food and fuel prices around the globe.
In the same quarter, worldwide smartphone shipments declined nearly 9% compared with a year earlier to 286 million units, according to research firm International Data Corp. The biggest drag on the market was China, but the U.S. and most other regions were also weaker, IDC said.
Sean Mullee, a 23-year-old economist in Washington, D.C., recently moved to the capital from Ohio and said he found the cost of living high, especially now with inflation running at more than 8%. Mr. Mullee, who has an iPhone X he got a couple of years ago, said he wasn’t planning to upgrade for now.
“When your car breaks down, it’s like, ‘OK, well I need a car, so I have to go get one.’ But until then, I’m going to keep putting it off,” he said.
The situation has changed from the first two years of the pandemic, when people staying at home were using their phones more. In that period, demand was strong and the biggest problem for the industry was the supply chain, which was hit by shipping delays, Covid-19 lockdowns and a shortage of semiconductors. Those issues haven’t gone away but are gradually easing.
“What started out as a supply-constrained industry earlier this year has turned into a demand-constrained market,” said Nabila Popal, an analyst with IDC.
The slowdown isn’t uniform. Sales of smartphones priced above $900 grew more than 20% in the first half of this year compared with the same period a year earlier, according to Counterpoint Research. The segment includes Samsung’s foldable smartphones and many of Apple’s latest iPhones.
Only about one in 10 smartphones globally fell into that premium category in the first half of the year, but it accounted for 70% of industry profits, Counterpoint said. Canalys Research analyst Runar Bjørhovde said wealthy consumers aren’t as bothered by the higher cost of daily expenses and still want to have the latest phones in their pockets.
On the flip side, some big carriers are seeing more subscribers default on their payments as inflation takes a bite out of household finances. “Naturally they’re not going to see people buying new phones if they can’t even pay for their phone subscriptions,” said Mr. Bjørhovde.
Samsung introduced budget 5G models in March, a move it said was aimed at stimulating demand, while it is also pitching foldable phones that cost as much as $1,800 in the premium market.
Apple, which is expected to roll out the latest versions of its iPhone in September, benefits from being primarily a high-end brand, but there are signs that it can’t rest easy.
The biggest iPhone assembler, Foxconn Technology Group, said this month that it saw slowing demand for smartphones, as did Qualcomm Inc., a chip supplier to Apple and others, in July.
Apple supplier Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., a leader in advanced smartphone chips, said recently that its smartphone business is no longer its biggest revenue generator. The No. 1 spot is now held by high-performance computing chips that are used in applications such as graphics processing and autonomous driving.
China, which accounts for nearly a quarter of global smartphone shipments, is at the centre of concerns about global demand.
From July 29 to Aug. 1, Apple took the unusual step of discounting its iPhones in China and running ads online advertising the sale. It knocked the equivalent of nearly $100 off the price of its iPhone 13 Pro Max and 13 Pro models.
Wang Xiang, the president of Xiaomi, alluded to a similar situation on Friday when reporting the company’s weak results, including a 67% drop in net profit. “Due to the weak market demand, we are trying various ways to clear our inventory, which has caused a decline in profit,” he said.
Zhao Haijun, co-chief executive officer of Shanghai-based Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp., said he saw some companies involved in making smartphones or smartphone parts suddenly cutting orders.
“That triggered a panic in the supply chain,” Mr. Zhao said on an investor call this month.
Feng Xiao, a 37-year-old sports-event organiser based in Shanghai, echoed Mr. Mullee in the U.S. when asked whether she was planning to upgrade her phone. “My iPhone 12, which I’ve used for about two years, is still just fine,” she said.
Analysts said they thought demand would likely start to improve later this year or next year and the people who say they are happy with their phones would eventually get restless. That assumes there won’t be major global disruptions such as a deepening of the U.S.-China conflict over Taiwan or a new surge in inflation.
“We continue to believe that any reduction today is not demand that is lost, but simply pushed forward,” said IDC’s Ms. Popal.
—Jiyoung Sohn contributed to this article.
Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual
The latest hike is unlikely to be the last as inflation remains stubbornly high
In a decision that will surprise few economists – or borrowers – the RBA announced a further 0.25 percent rise in interest rates when it met earlier this afternoon. This brings the current interest rate up to 3.35 percent, a 3.25 percent increase since May last year.
Prior to today’s announcement, when the interest rate was still 3.1 percent, research by Roy Morgan released at the end of last month revealed that 23.9 percent of Australian mortgage holders were ‘at risk’ of mortgage stress in the three months to December 2022. Mortgage stress is where one third or more of weekly household income is going towards mortgage repayments.
In a tight rental market, mortgage pressure has also lead more landlords to pass rate rises onto tenants.
Research director at CoreLogic, Tim Lawless, says the latest rate rise moves beyond the ‘serviceability assessments’ some borrowers passed when applying for their loans.
“Since October 2021, lenders have assessed new borrowers on their ability to service a mortgage under an interest rate scenario that is at least 300 basis points above their origination rate,” he said. “The latest lift in the cash rate will push these recent borrowers beyond their serviceability tests.
“Considering most lenders were showing mortgage arrears to be around record lows last year, it’s likely some evidence of rising mortgage stress will start to emerge in 2023 under such substantially higher interest rate settings, with the potential for a more noticeable lift as further fixed rate borrowers migrate over to variable mortgage rates.”
Today’s decision signals the RBA’s continued efforts to use the cash rate to manage inflation, which sits at 7.8 percent annually. Time will tell whether it has been successful in curbing spending or whether, as many predict, there are more rate rises on the way. Mr Lawless said overseas economies could offer some hope to borrowers.
“Global inflationary pressures are easing, and domestically, a relatively weak December retail spending result could be the first clear sign that consumers are reigning in their spending,” he said. “Additionally, the housing component of CPI, which has the largest weight of any sub-group, dropped sharply through the final quarter of 2022, albeit from the highest level since the mid-1990s (outside of the impact from the introduction of GST in 2000).
“Mainstream forecasts for the cash rate reflect the uncertainty around inflation outcomes, ranging from the RBA holding the cash rate at 3.35 percent, through to another 75 basis points of hikes. However, a recent survey from Bloomberg puts the median forecast at 3.6 percent, implying one more hike of 25 basis points in the wings.”
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