Tech

Tim Culpan is a technology columnist for Bloomberg Gadfly. He previously covered technology for Bloomberg News.

Investors betting on the outcome of bribery investigations at Samsung Electronics Co. have some riveting viewing ahead.

Bears finally got their turn Friday, after bulls dominated the stock for most of this week amid a probe into the company and Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee's possible links to corruption. Shares in Samsung fell as much as 2.9 percent in early trade after Lee, 48, was formally named as a suspect late Thursday.

There's going to be a lot of newsprint spilled over this scandal, and there's no shortage of opinion as to how it will play out.

Governance Risk
Shares in Samsung have climbed 7 percent over the past month, even as an investigation into the company and Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee heated up
Source: Bloomberg

A worst-case scenario may involve having Samsung's leader thrown in prison, the company hit with massive fines, and a management restructure as other executives face punishment.

On a more positive note, perhaps Samsung's management model will get a face lift, with product people elevated to higher positions ahead of friends and family. After all, they're the ones responsible for actually generating revenue.

Other complications could include a shake-up at the financial core of the company. Those who control the purse strings determine the allocation of capital. If a new leader decides that more funds should be put into TVs and smartphones and less into chips or new technologies, then the fortunes of Samsung could turn quickly.

Whatever happens, some investors seem to believe this turmoil is a buying opportunity. What they may be forgetting, however -- and the data certainly suggest as much -- is that they're bidding up the stock to price-earnings multiples not seen since since 2012. That's when Samsung's global smartphone share was above 30 percent and net income for the year grew 74 percent.

Overpriced?
Investors who have been dismissing concerns over the Samsung bribery allegations are bidding up the stock's price-to-earnings multiple
Source: Bloomberg

That's not the situation today, and Samsung's blue-chip semiconductor business is facing the same macro headwinds as everybody else. Perhaps there'll be some unlocking of that unit's value as a result of this scandal or from moves by activist investor Elliott Management Corp., but neither would create additional revenue.

As market bulls and bears wrestle over Samsung's fate, they'd be wise to keep their eye on the ball. And that ball is earnings.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Tim Culpan in Taipei at tculpan1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katrina Nicholas at knicholas2@bloomberg.net