Sony sees Q3 sales drop, but reports a small profit

Stronger yen hurts Sony's business, contributing to an ¥18 billion operating loss.

Sony's sales during the last three months of 2008 dropped by 25 percent due to the slowing world economy and strengthening Japanese yen, but the company still managed to keep its head above water thanks to an exceptional gain from foreign exchange.

The company recorded a fiscal third-quarter net profit of ¥10.4 billion (US$115 million), down 95 percent compared to the last three months of 2007 and its worst third quarter profit in at least ten years. Sales were ¥2.2 trillion, which is comparable to the level of sales reported by Sony in the same period during 2004.

The stronger yen hurt Sony's business and contributed to an ¥18 billion operating loss. However, the company managed to turn an overall profit thanks largely to ¥80 billion it earned from hedging against the currency swing.

Sony's core electronics business lost money during the quarter on the back of a 29 percent drop in sales in the sector. Some of Sony's best-known products including its CyberShot digital cameras, Handycam video cameras and Vaio PCs saw a "significant" drop in sales. Sharply lower profits were recorded for CyberShot cameras, Vaio PCs and Bravia televisions.

The one bright point was Blu-ray Disc players, which sold more during the quarter, although sales were low during the previous year because of the format battle raging in the sector. Sony also said Bravia TV sales were up in Europe.

In its games business, Sony saw sales sink 32 percent and profits were all-but-eliminated to ¥400 million.

During the quarter, which is a key sales period because of the Christmas selling period in western countries, unit sales of the flagship PlayStation 3 dropped 9 percent to 4.5 million and PlayStation Portable sales were down 12 percent at 5.1 million units. PlayStation 3 software sales jumped 57 percent to 40.8 million units while PSP software sales were off 15 percent at 15.5 million.

Sony and other Japanese electronics companies have been dealt a double whammy in recent months. Not only are sales falling in major economies as a result of the poor economic conditions but the Japanese yen has jumped in value against most currencies by a considerable amount.

The rising value of the yen exacerbates other problems faced by the company. Goods produced in Japan become more expensive when priced in foreign currencies. Sony would typically raise prices overseas when this happens, but given the weak economic environment that is difficult to do.

On top of these challenges, the revenue earned overseas is worth less when brought back to Japan. For example, when measured on a local currency basis, Sony's electronics sector sales dropped 14 percent while those of in the games business fell 18 percent, but when converted into yen, the drops became 29 percent and 32 percent, respectively, because the currency has strengthened.

Last week the company revised its financial forecasts and sales forecasts for key products for its current financial year, which ends in March.

It cut predicted sales by 14 percent to ¥7.7 trillion and said net income will drop from an expected profit of ¥150 billion to a loss of the same amount. It will be Sony's first annual loss in 14 years.

Sony said it expects to sell 15 million Bravia TVs this year, down 1 million on its previous forecast; CyberShot digital camera sales are predicted to be 21.5 million, a drop of 2.5 million on its last forecast and Vaio PC sales expectations have been reduced by a million units to 5.8 million. In the games sector Sony cut its PlayStation Portable sales forecast from 16 million to 15 million but left its PlayStation 3 target untouched at 10 million.

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Martyn Williams

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