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TheDeal: Sony Slips as Loeb Turns Up Pressure

Tickers in this article: SNE

NEW YORK (TheDeal) -- Japan's Sony said Wednesday it would review a proposal from shareholder Third Point LLC to list part of its entertainment unit to free up cash to support its unhealthy electronics businesses.

"The proposal is one that affects a main component of Sony's business and our management's strategy so the Sony board will give it thorough consideration before replying," Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai told a press conference.

New York hedge fund Third Point, led by Dan Loeb, has already sunk $1.1 billion into a 6.5% stake in Sony. Earlier this month, Loeb hand-delivered a letter to sony suggesting it could list up to 20% of its entertainment activities, which Loeb views as an underappreciated jewel.

Sony shares were falling 1% in New York to $22.68.

Since then, Loeb has gone on a media blitz to drum up support. The hedge fund even said it was willing to put its money where its mouth is and post up to $2 billion to guarantee the success of the listing.

Sony's reaction to Loeb is seen as a test of the new corporate zeitgeist promoted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took his post in December. Abe wants to introduce more open-door, Western values to the country's clubby corporate sector and has also launched an aggressive monetary campaign to weaken the yen to promote exports and end deflation.

Hirai appears to agree with Japan's top politician but has only been at the helm since April and is working to absorb the pending departure of four executives from its 15-member board in June.

Hirai made the comments about the Loeb proposal during an annual corporate strategy meeting. Earnings released Wednesday highlighted Sony's conundrum -- its TV and phone businesses are unprofitable while its entertainment business reels in cash by producing such fare as the "Breaking Bad" TV series and "Spider-Man" movies. The company said it now expects just 1.5 trillion yen in smartphone and tablet sales in the year ending March 31, 2015. That's down from an earlier prediction of 1.8 trillion yen. For the current fiscal year, the conglomerate said it's concentrating on getting the division profitable again.