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.
Following the devastation of recent flooding, experts are urging government intervention to drive the cessation of building in areas at risk.
RMIT expert says a conflation of factors is making the property market hard than ever to predict
A leading property academic has described navigating the current Australian housing market ‘like steering a ship through a thick fog while trying to avoid obstacles’.
Lecturer in RMIT’s School of Property Construction and Project Management Dr Woon-Weng Wong said the combination of consecutive interest rate rises aimed at combating high inflation, higher property prices during the pandemic and cost of living pressures such as the end of the fuel excise that occurred this week made it increasingly difficult for those looking to enter or upgrade to find the right path.
“Property prices grew by approximately 25 percent over the pandemic so it’s unsurprising that much of that growth ultimately proved unsustainable and the market is now correcting itself,” Dr Wong says. “Despite the recent softening, the market is still significantly above its long-term trend and there are substantial headwinds in the coming months. Headline inflation is still red hot, and the central bank won’t back down until it reins in these spiralling prices.”
This should be enough to give anyone considering entering the market pause, he says.
“While falling house prices may seem like an ideal situation for those looking to buy, once the high interest rates, taxes and other expenses are considered, the true costs of owning the property are much higher,” Dr Wong says.
“People also must consider time lags in the rate hikes, which many are yet to feel to brunt of. It can take anywhere from 6 to 24 months before an initial change in interest rates eventually flows on to the rest of the economy, so current mortgage holders and prospective home buyers need to take this into account.”