Sony Drops Most in Nearly Two Years on Cooling Smartphone Demand

(Bloomberg) -- Sony Corp. shares fell the most in almost two years after the electronics maker missed profit estimates and forecast weaker sales and operating profits across most of its business units.

The stock fell 6.1 percent to 5,073 yen on Tuesday in Tokyo, the biggest one-day drop since June 2016 and the first trading session after last week’s earnings. The move wiped out about $4 billion from the company’s market value, while volume was twice-as-high as the 180-day average.

Sales in the mobile, PlayStation, music, movies, and home-entertainment divisions are forecast to decline in the year to March 2019, the Tokyo-based company said in a statement Friday. Only cameras, chips and financial services were seen improving slightly. Operating profit will decline to 670 billion yen ($6.1 billion), below analysts’ prediction for 747 billion yen, according to the outlook.

Analysts expressed concerned over the Sony’s weak outlook for phone-camera chips, where it forecast a 39 percent decline in operating profit. JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s JJ Park lowered the firm’s price target for Sony to 5,200 yen from 5,400 yen, telling investors stay on the sidelines until shares finish adjusting to the weaker demand for smartphones.

“We expect Sony’s share price to follow the performance in Apple supply chain names, which have shown a meaningful correction,” Park, Ky Oh and Hisashi Moriyama wrote in a note to clients on Apr. 28, where they maintained their neutral rating on the stock. “We recommend that investors find a better entry point after a share price correction.”

Tuesday’s decline brought the gap between analyst price targets and the actual price to the widest since March 2016, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Chief Executive Officer Kenichiro Yoshida needs to boost revenue by coming up with new products and services after five years of restructuring that he pushed through as chief financial officer with his predecessor, Kazuo Hirai. While the changes have left Sony on solid footing, the company remains vulnerable to any potential downturn given that it’s the top supplier for image sensors that go into the devices, including Apple Inc.’s iPhone.

Total operating profit was a record 735 billion yen for the year through March. Analysts were projecting, on average, 743 billion yen. Full-year sales rose 12 percent to 8.54 trillion yen.

“We’ve delivered on the promises we laid out and reached 500 billion yen profits in back-to-back years,” Sony CFO Hiroki Totoki said at a news conference after the results. “Given we’ve never before achieved that, that accomplishment weighs very heavily on our shoulders. But that’s why it’s very important to continue to properly earn stable profits.”

Cooling demand for smartphones across markets is hitting Sony on two fronts: less demand for mobile-camera chips and poor demand for Sony’s own models. The Xperia division recorded a writedown and forecast an operating loss of 15 billion yen in the coming year. The semiconductor unit will post a 39 percent decline in operating profit, Sony said, even though sales are seen climbing slightly.

“It’s not a great time for smartphones,” said Amir Anvarzadeh, senior strategist at Asymmetric Advisors in Singapore. “Sony has had phenomenal growth in the past few years, so it doesn’t take a genius to see that it will be harder to maintain from here on.”

Still, many investors remain optimistic, with Sony shares near ten-year highs. A Bloomberg analysis of share price data suggests that CFOs-turned-CEOs tend to perform well. In the 28 instances since the mid-1990s when large non-financial corporations promoted their finance chiefs to the top job, the stocks on average did twice as well as the broader market. Sony shares were up about 6 percent before the results, following a 55 percent rally last year.

“Yoshida-san understands the stock market very well,” said Masahiro Wakasugi, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “Expectations are as high as ever, but he’s the type who can probably respond to what the market wants.”

Here’s a look at Sony’s main business units:

  • Chips:
    • Operating profit was 164 billion yen in the latest fiscal year, better than Sony’s own estimate for 155 billion yen. For the coming year, the company forecasts a decline to 100 billion yen. Sony said it’s stepping up capital expenditures in the unit to 160 billion yen, of which 130 billion yen will be for image sensors.
    • Apple suppliers including Sony have been hit by poor demand for the iPhone X. But with some Chinese phone manufacturers such as Huawei now outfitting models with three rear-facing cameras, demand for image sensors may hold up.
  • Games: 
    • Full-year operating profit was 177.5 billion yen, missing Sony’s estimate for 180 billion yen. The company sold 19 million PS4s, matching its forecast. In the coming year, it expects to generate 190 billion yen in operating profit, while PS4 sales will slow to 16 million.
  • Films:
    • Operating profit was 41.1 billion yen on sales of 1.01 trillion yen, compared with Sony’s estimate for 39 billion yen and 1.02 trillion yen. The company sees operating profit remaining mostly flat at 42 billion yen, with revenue shrinking to 960 billion yen.
    • Sony had one of its strongest box-office performances in years, announcing this month that the new Jumanji movie had become its highest-grossing film in history.
  • Music:
    • Operating profit was 127.8 billion yen, compared with Sony’s estimate for 110 billion yen, boosted by strong performance from Fate/Grand Order, streaming music, and a one-time gain of real estate sales. The company sees that falling to 112 billion yen in the coming year.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.