As Investors Push for Change, Can Samsung Improve Its Returns?

So far, 2016 has been a bang-up year for Samsung Electronics (SSNLF) , but not in the usual, good way.

The South Korean electronics giant has been forced to bear the brunt of several unfortunate safety debacles as its products have literally been exploding. And one has to think that its investors are not pleased, even if the stock has made impressive gains this year.

(U.S. investors should note that Samsung's over-the-counter shares traded in the U.S. under the SSNLF ticker are so thinly traded that they're not really a viable investment option, as CNN Money has noted. Buying the company's Korea-listed stock can be difficult, likely involves fees and exposes U.S. investors to currency risk.)

The most spectacular profit implosion came from the recall of 2.5 million Galaxy Note 7 smartphones, which were capable of exploding into flames. Samsung eventually scrapped manufacturing the popular phone altogether, and the disaster contributed to a 17% decline in third-quarter net profit. In total, the recall is expected to cost the company more than $6 billion.

The explosions were attributed to the lithium-ion batteries the phones use, and this type of battery has been blamed for all sorts of exploding products recently, from e-cigarettes to hoverboards.

Samsung has had other problems, too. Earlier this month the company was forced by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to issue a recall on washing machines that had lids that popped off, causing injuries. This recall involved 34 models of machines, totaling 2.8 million individual products.

The company needs to do something quickly to improve its image. Even so, its Korea-listed stock has done well in 2016, rising about 33%.

On Monday, the company revealed in a filing that it will hold a conference call Tuesday morning to discuss changes it intends to make to improve shareholder returns.

Any change at Samsung will be, in large part, driven by activist investor hedge fund Elliott Management, which has been pushing the company to spin off its Galaxy smartphone business.

Samsung remains tight-lipped for now about what steps it will take to appease investors, but Elliott's suggestions have been finding traction with both investors and analysts. On word alone that the company will hold a conference call, the Korean-listed stock has ticked up by more than 1.5% on Monday.

Right now, the smartphone business is weighing on Samsung, as it is rapidly losing market share. In the third quarter of the fiscal year, Samsung's global profit share for the cellphone market slid from 31.2% to practically zero, MarketWatch reported. At the same time, competitor Apple's global profit share rose to 91% from 62%.

Galaxy users are simply switching to iPhones or other Android devices, including those made by Alphabet, HTC and LG Electronics.

Alphabet and Apple are holdings in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio. See how Cramer rates the stocks here. Want to be alerted before Cramer buys or sells GOOGL or AAPL? Learn more now.

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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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