Sony reports $1 bln annual loss, sees more red ink

TOKYO: Sony Corp. said it lost 98.9 billion yen ($1 billion) in the fiscal year through March, its first annual net loss in 14 years, and projected it would lose even more money this year amid a slump in consumer demand for electronics goods.

Sony, which makes Bravia flat-panel TVs and Cyber-shot digital cameras, also said Thursday it is closing three plants in Japan this year to help turn its business around. That brings the total number of factories it is closing globally to eight by the end of March 2010. It is also in the midst of cutting 16,000 workers from its payrolls.

Hit by dropping sales and the strong yen, Sony lost 165 billion yen in the January-March quarter, compared to a 29 billion yen profit for the same period the previous year.

Sony joins a string of other big Japanese corporate names, including Toyota Motor Corp. and Hitachi Ltd., that have announced huge losses — and bleak outlooks.

Analysts say Sony's Chief Executive Howard Stringer, who decided to center power in his position earlier this year by also becoming president, has yet to give details of a turnaround plan, including strategies and products.

Stringer, a Welsh-born American and the first foreigner to head Sony, has promoted four relatively young Japanese executives onto his managerial team. Representing the company's gaming and electronics sectors, they aim to take advantage of Sony's sprawling empire to differentiate it from a host of rivals such as South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co. and Taiwan's Acer Inc., which are better at producing cheaper products.

The fiscal year loss, while big, was better than Sony's forecast for a 150 billion yen shortfall. Sony said the result wasn't as bad partly because TV prices held up better than expected. A one-time gain from a change in Japanese tax laws also helped, it said.

But the electronics and entertainment company said no quick recovery was in sight, projecting a 120 billion yen ($1.2 billion) loss for the fiscal year through March 2010.

Sony continued to lose money in its game segment, where its PlayStation 3 home console and PlayStation Portable have struggled against rival offerings from Nintendo Co., the Wii and DS, as well as in some markets against the Xbox 360 from Microsoft Corp.

Koya Tabata, analyst with Credit Suisse in Tokyo, said the forecast was in line with what he had expected. Sony must in the short run fix its electronics inventory as one step in turning its business around, he said.

"In the longer term, we are all waiting for the PlayStation network business to deliver profits. But that depends on management."

Sony sold 10.06 million PlayStation 3 machines for the fiscal year through March, up 10 percent from the previous year. It also sold more PlayStation Portable machines, at 14.11 million during the fiscal year, up slightly from 13.81 million.

The results for the fiscal year through March were a reversal from the 369.4 billion yen profit Sony recorded a year earlier. Annual sales slid 12.9 percent to 7.73 trillion yen, it said.

Sales for the fiscal year fell in all key markets: down 20 percent in the U.S., 17 percent in Europe and 14 percent in Japan.

Sony is closing three plants in Japan by the end of December — one for cell-phone cameras, another for video recorder parts and another for systems used for smart cards. After they are shuttered, the number of plants around the world will dwindle from 57 last year to 49.

The company said it was on track with its previously announced plan to reduce 8,000 of its 185,000 jobs around the world, and trim another 8,000 temporary workers who aren't included in the global work force tally.

Sony said it had an operating loss in its core electronics segment because of the slowing global economy, price competition and a strong yen, which erased any benefits from better liquid-crystal display TVs.

In its movies division, home entertainment sales declined. They were not offset by some of its stronger motion picture releases, including "Hancock."

Sony stock dropped 6.8 percent to 2,400 yen in Tokyo. Earnings were announced after trading ended.