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Sony may post $1.1 bln operating loss

  Japan’s Sony Corp will likely suffer an annual operating loss of about $1.1 billion, its first such loss in 14 years, due to sluggish sales and a stronger yen, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

Shares of Sony tumbled 9%, slicing $2 billion off its market value to $22 billion, while rival Toshiba Corp dropped more than 8% after Japanese media said it too was headed for a big loss this financial year. The global economic slump has dampened demand for electronics products, causing inventories to pile up and prices to tumble, and Sony is feeling the pinch of the downturn in every corner of its operations, which range from semiconductors to movies and insurance.

If it posts such a loss, management could come under pressure to pursue bolder restructuring than the plan unveiled last month that called for curbing investment, exiting businesses and cutting 16,000 jobs. That included 8,000 regular workers, or roughly 4% of its global workforce. “I think there’s a good chance the company will further accelerate its restructuring from what has been announced in December,” said Daiwa Institute of Research analyst Kazuharu Miura.

Sony will likely need to pursue more drastic measures, such as laying off more full-time employees and selling its financial unit which has been hurt by falling stock prices, market participants say. Sony may post an operating loss of ¥100 billion ($1.1 billion) in the business year to March 31, instead of its previously estimated ¥200 billion profit, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because Sony has not yet revised its forecasts.

The Nikkei business daily had reported earlier that the loss could double to around ¥200 billion depending on the extent of inventory build-up in the January-March quarter. Analysts on average see an annual profit of ¥18.5 billion, a poll of 18 brokerages by Reuters Estimates showed.

Sony spokeswoman Mami Imada said the loss figure was speculation and declined to comment further. Similar reports appeared in other media. The company is scheduled to announce its quarterly earnings results on January 29.

The severe downturn has also pushed rival Panasonic Corp to slash its outlook and step up restructuring measures, while media said Toshiba would likely plunge into an annual operating loss for the first time in seven years because of its deteriorating chip business.

The Nikkei newspaper said Toshiba’s operating loss will likely be around ¥200 billion, against the company’s October forecast for a ¥150 billion profit and a projection of a ¥31 billion profit in a poll of 16 brokerages by Reuters Estimates. Toshiba also suffers from weak demand for flat TVs and personal computers. Toshiba spokeswoman Kaori Hiraki said the loss estimate was not issued by the company, which is still reviewing its earnings forecasts.

Sony, the maker of Bravia flat TVs, Cyber-shot digital cameras and PlayStation game machines competes with Samsung Electronics in TVs, Canon Inc in digital cameras, and Microsoft Corp and Nintendo in video games. (Reuters)