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Sony Corporation (ADR) (SNE): Can Shareholders Light a Fire Under This Icon?

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Sony Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:SNE) became an industry icon through a focus on high-quality, innovative products, which provided profits to build out its media empire, including leading positions in music and motion pictures. However, its electronic product portfolio has been in free fall lately, with lower sales of televisions, PCs, and cameras leading to red ink on its income statement. Of course, Sony has some valuable assets, like Sony Pictures and its large financial operations, which has brought hedge fund Third Point to Sony Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:SNE)’s doorstep. With Third Point’s large 6.9% stake and its call for a split-up of the company, do the investment rewards outweigh the risks for investors?

Sony Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:SNE)

Working through an identity crisis

Despite having high-profile media and financial services units, Sony Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:SNE) is primarily a manufacturer of electronic products, accounting for roughly two-thirds of its sales in FY2013. Unfortunately, its manufacturing segment has been notably weak recently, with declining unit volumes across its television, mobile products, and gaming segments. While Sony initiated a profit improvement plan in 2011, it is still a work in progress and has been hamstrung by weak economies in its core Japanese and European markets.

In its latest fiscal year, Sony Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:SNE)’s revenue growth was negligible, after adjusting for the consolidation of its former mobile joint venture with Ericsson. However, Sony did generate an uptick in its adjusted operating margin, 1.4% versus 0.6% in the prior year, primarily due to cost savings in its television segment. In addition, Sony’s financial services unit enjoyed solid profit growth as a result of rebounding equity markets around the world.

Looking ahead, Sony Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:SNE) is forecasting another gain in operating income in FY2014, contingent upon rising unit sales of its diversified electronic product offerings.  Specifically, Sony is banking on new product sales, including its new PlayStation console, which it hopes will reinvigorate results in its gaming segment. Unfortunately, outside of its media and financial services units, Sony still doesn’t have a sustainable path to higher overall profit, given consumer shifts away from digital cameras and PCs.

Maybe Third Point has a point

Sony Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:SNE) seems to be in too many disparate businesses, which makes its overall success a difficult goal to achieve. Due to falling price points and profit compression in technology device manufacturing, Sony should probably split off its manufacturing businesses, providing capital to further expand its media empire into cable networks, similar to the strategy at competitors The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) and Time Warner Inc (NYSE:TWX). While both competitors had roots in Hollywood, television and cable networks now make up the lion’s share of their total revenues and operating profit.

In its latest fiscal year, Disney posted better financial results, despite a smaller than usual slate of feature films. For the period, the company reported increases in revenues and operating income of 3.4% and 13.9%, respectively, compared to the prior year. The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS)’s profit jump was due to across-the-board gains, led by strong pricing in its media networks and parks segments.

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