Sony Corp. (NYSE:SNE), the Japanese electronics giant that also owns major media assets, is said to take seriously calls from New York activist investor Daniel Loeb, the 51-year-old billionaire head of Third Point, to spin off significant portions of its entertainment business as a separate entity.
Here’s what Chief Executive Officer Kazuo Hirai said Wednesday at a press briefing:
The proposal from Third Point, Dan Loeb is something that we should discuss thoroughly at a board meeting and then we'll decide Sony's stance … Therefore, we are now going to start the discussion and we are still at the starting stage.
Sony’s New York listed stock price jumped nearly 10 percent, to a 21-month high, after Nikkei newspaper reported Hirai’s statements on Wednesday. Hirai gave no timeframe for any decision on the issue.
Sony’s two major entertainment segments -- Sony Music Entertainment, which owns Columbia, Epic and RCA record labels, and Sony Pictures Television, whose current programming includes the popular AMC series “Breaking Bad” –- are considered more lucrative than the company’s electronics division, which once ruled the world of portable music and home electronics but has fallen from its position in recent years.
Sony has been trying to revive its unprofitable electronics business -- which had been in the decades before the 1990s a potent symbol of Japan’s post-war industry, where virtually every American household bought Sony products such as the Walkman and home entertainment products. Its efforts move into computers never took off, largely thanks to Apple Inc.’s (Nasdaq:AAPL) meteoric rise with its laptops and portable music players.
Now, Sony is trying to expand into mobile technology, but it has been an uphill climb against market dominators Apple and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (KRX:005935).
On May 12, Loeb jetted off to Tokyo to deliver a letter to Hirai, first praising the company board’s efforts to turn around the company -- whose stock hit a two-decade low in December – before urging the company to consider spinning off the entertainment businesses so it can “focus” efforts on reviving the electronics segment while allowing shareholders the opportunity to focus on the company’s more profitable businesses.
Loeb’s Third Point hedge fund reportedly owns 6.5 percent of Sony.