Sony board examines plan
IOL Business/ Sapa-AFP - May 23rd, 14:47
Tokyo - Sony chief Kazuo Hirai said Wednesday the company was examining a hedge fund proposal to sell off part of its entertainment unit in a bid to boost profits in its core business.
Hirai told a press conference board members have started discussing the idea raised by key shareholder Daniel Loeb, whose investment fund Third Point suggested spinning off as much as 20 percent of Sony's entertainment arm.
“The proposal by Third Point is a very significant matter that would affect Sony Group's core business and Sony Group's operation,” Hirai told reporters at the company's Tokyo headquarters as he gave an update on a medium-term business plan.
“We would like to respond to Third Point after having full discussions at board meetings. At this point, we don't have a schedule as to when we do what,” Hirai said, adding that talks among board members have already started.
“We are always hopeful that we can engage in positive discussions with shareholders,” he added.
He had earlier said the entertainment arm was an integral part of the business and was not for sale.
Sony, like many Japanese companies that came of age in the booming Japan of the 1970s and 1980s, diversified its operations to include seemingly unrelated businesses with few synergies.
Critics say this has left them too big to cope with their more nimble overseas competitors and has led to years of profit bleeding.
Its financial arm, however, which includes banking and insurance operations, has significantly contributed to the firm's bottom line.
Loeb, an outspoken shareholder activist known for his aggressive style in trying to force change at targeted firms, said he supported Hirai's bid to shake up one of Japan Inc.'s best-known names.
Billionaire investor Loeb says his firm is now Sony's largest investor through direct and indirect holdings. Hirai took the helm of the iconic Japanese firm last year.
Earlier this month, Sony reported its first annual net profit in five years, although it was largely driven by a weakening of the yen - which boosts the value of its repatriated foreign income - and a string of asset sales including unloading its Manhattan headquarters.
Hirai said he was on track to bringing Sony's money-losing television business into profitability.
Sony and and domestic rivals Sharp and Panasonic have struggled in the low-margin television business against foreign rivals.
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