Sony shares soar to near five-year high on earnings outlook

Visitors walking past a Sony logo at the company's headquarters in Tokyo on Feb 4, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Visitors walking past a Sony logo at the company's headquarters in Tokyo on Feb 4, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - Sony shares surged as much as 18 per cent to their highest intraday level in nearly five years on Thursday as an improved earnings outlook offered a glimmer of hope for the struggling electronics firm.

The company rose by its daily limit to a morning high of 3,269.0 yen on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, before easing back to 3,194.0 by the break, still up 15.34 per cent.

After Japanese markets closed on Wednesday, Sony said it now expects to lose 170 billion yen (S$1.96 billion) in its fiscal year to March, a hefty shortfall but much narrower than the 230 billion yen previously forecast.

It also projected an operating profit of 20 billion yen, turning around an October estimate that it would lose 40 billion yen.

A weak yen helped Sony's third-quarter results as net profit more than tripled, helped by a pick-up in its smartphone and PlayStation console businesses while restructuring costs shrank.

A big contributor to the robust quarterly results was sales of image sensors for cameras found in smartphones and vehicles.

"The demand for front-facing camera modules is going through the roof, because everyone wants to take high-quality selfies, and that doubles the market size for Sony," Amir Anvarzadeh, a manager of Japanese equity sales at BGC Partners in Singapore, told Bloomberg News.

"The auto segment of the market is also beginning to boom. Cars potentially may have more than five modules per car."

But Sony also warned of more job cuts in the mobile communications segment as it chops away at struggling units in a bid to claw itself back to profitability.

It now plans to shed a total of 2,100 jobs by March 2016, including the previously announced payroll cut of 1,000 positions - about 30 percent of the mobile phone unit's workforce.

Sony has struggled in the consumer electronics business that built its global brand, including losing billions of dollars in televisions over the past decade as fierce competition from lower-cost rivals pummelled the TV subsidiary's finances.

The company is going through a huge restructuring, including unloading its laptop business and selling its Manhattan headquarters, in a bid to drag itself out of the red.

Sony published the estimates Wednesday after earlier saying it would delay its finalised numbers following a cyberattack at its Hollywood film unit - linked to satirical film "The Interview", about an assassination attempt on North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un - compromised "a large amount of data".

On Wednesday, it said that investigating the attack and fixing the problems at Sony Pictures Entertainment would cost at least US$35 million, but added that it would not have a significant impact on earnings.

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