Put Sony on Pause

Sony's (NYSE: SNE  ) latest quarter contained some good news, but it wasn't a home run. At least its PlayStation video game segment was profitable, but even that's not as exciting as it sounds at first blush.

Third-quarter net income increased 25.2% to 200.2 billion yen, and Sony's total sales increased 9.6% to 2.86 trillion yen. (Adjusting these figures to U.S. dollars using the exchange rate from Dec. 31, that's net income of $1.76 billion, or $1.67 per share, on sales of $25.08 billion.) Granted, it's an improvement from the third quarter last year, when it was clear that Sony was still turning around, with a decreased profit as it took a hit on the launch of PlayStation 3.

Despite significant hardware cost reductions, PlayStation 3 continues to be a money-losing product, though losses did notably decrease for the unit. This isn't surprising, given the high expense in making it and Sony's having to cut the price to compete. Sony has now cut its sales forecast for the PS3 for the year to 9.5 million machines; it sold 4.9 million PS3 machines in the quarter. (Nintendo sold 6.96 million Wiis in the holiday quarter and a total of 20 million in about 12 months.) Sony's price cuts on the PS3 appear to have helped drive sales, but it has catching up to do as it takes on Nintendo's products, as well as Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Xbox.

Of course, Sony is a massive conglomerate, offering everything from computers to digital cameras and TVs (its Bravia LCD TV was a bright spot in the quarter), as well as relatively obscure items like its Sony Reader, which now faces additional rivalry from Amazon.com's (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) Kindle. Sony's got exposure to media, too. Sony's film division, for example, didn't stack up favorably compared to last year's revenues last quarter. Last but not least, its financial services segment dropped 21% year over year.

I remain bearish on this huge company. Customer friendliness has often seemed to be missing at Sony, given some of its odd controversies over the years. Now, Sony has reduced its operating profit outlook for the year thanks to the stronger yen, and of course, currently strapped consumers may cut back spending on gadgets and going to the movies. There are some great opportunities for bargain stocks out there, but Sony's not on my list.


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