Samsung Electronics offered a bleak sales outlook today for the fourth quarter and 2009 for a variety of electronics products. The Korean electronics giant said demand was weak for a wide range of memory chip products, TVs, computer monitors, and other goods.

Overall demand for tech products is sluggish in the fourth quarter and is expected to declined in 2009, said executive vice president Woosik Chu, speaking at a company event in San Francisco. The company is a leader in so many markets — from memory chips to LCD TV screens — that its outlook is a bellwether for the tech industry.

Specifically, the company expects flat PC demand in the fourth quarter compared to a year ago and weak “megabyte per system growth” (how much memory is put into each PC) in the fourth quarter compared to the third quarter. Prices (and profits) for NAND flash chips, which are used in SD cards in digital cameras and cell phones, are falling, prompting many customers to put more flash into their products.

Profits on DRAM (dynamic random access memory) chips, which store active applications in a PC, are also sharply down.

In 2009, PC growth is expected to be in the low single digits, with shrinkage in desktops and growth only in notebooks and Netbooks (stripped down internet portable devices). Production cutbacks for the whole industry are expected in the first half of 2009.

Demand for cell phones and other portable devices is also expected to decline next year. Roughly 45 percent of the world population now has a cell phone, which means much of the market is saturated and new sales are often for replacement phones, which, given the slowing global economy, will see less demand in 2009. Some demand will come from new WiMax mobile service in 2009. Five countries have some kind of WiMax service now and many more are testing it. WiMax, along with its rival LTE, promise fast data rates with phone service.

TV unit sales are still expected to grow 16 percent on a compound annual growth rate basis through 2011. But prices are sliding, with TV prices falling even faster than computer prices in the fourth quarter. Samsung says it is ranked as the No. 1 TV maker, with 24 percent of the worldwide market. The company is focusing on the market for TVs with screens that are 40 inches or bigger.

On Black Friday in the U.S., the average price for a 32-inch flat panel TV was $499, about a third of the price a couple of years ago.

Samsung has bet more heavily on liquid crystal display (LCD) panels than on plasma TVs. While LCD TVs are brighter, they suffer from slower speeds. Now Samsung is making faster LCD TVs with 240 hertz refresh rates, compared with 60 Hz or 120 Hz rates of past TVs. That will help close the gap with plasma, which is being relegated to the largest-screen sizes.

The company believes that rivals will shut down less efficient 8-inch wafer chip factories as the industry leaders shift production to 12-inch wafer factories. (That’s like putting more chips on a wafer, about the size of a medium-size pizza, rather than a small-size pizza). Rivals are also facing production cuts because of financial difficulties.

Big companies like Samsung view the recession as a chance to gain market share across the board. Hence, the company will continue to invest in advanced manufacturing technologies for goods at the high end of the product spectrum for which there is better demand compared to mid-range commodity products.

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