Sales rise 10% in third quarter

Strong sales in vidgames and electronics made up for a weak movie and TV perf at Sony, which reported a 10% rise in sales and a 25% jump in net income for the fiscal third quarter ended Dec. 31.

Sony Pictures revenue plunged 25% to just under $2 billion, fueled by a weak showing at the box office and on TV. Operating income was halved to $116 million.

The studio didn’t release any movies that grossed more than $50 million domestically. Comparisons were already tough, however, as the year-earlier quarter featured blockbuster “Casino Royale.”

The TV division, meanwhile, suffered as it had fewer movies to sell in the U.S. market compared with last year. Homevideo revenue was roughly even, however, thanks to strong perfs by “Spider-Man 3″ and “Superbad” on DVD.

News was better in Sony’s vidgame unit, which has struggled recently due to high costs and low sales for the PlayStation 3. Overall revenue rose 31% to $5.1 billion — a new quarterly record — while operating income swung to $113 million from a loss of $509 million reported last year.

Though the PS3 is still in third place worldwide, sales rose nearly 200% from a year ago, when it launched mid-quarter, to 4.9 million units thanks to a substantial price cut and a broader array of games. PS3 software sales quintupled to 26 million units.

Sony is “still losing money on each unit sold, but we are continually reducing the loss and hope to reach the breakeven sometime next year,” Sony chief financial officer Nobuyuki Oneda said of the PS3 at a Thursday press conference.

PlayStation 2 continued to see sales drop as it reached the end of its life cycle, but the handheld PSP got a boost as Sony released a redesigned unit in September. Hardware sales were up 22% to 5.76 million units, though software sales fell 14% to 18.3 million units.

For the fiscal fourth quarter, however, Sony’s CFO sees a slowdown. “It might be difficult to make a profit (in games) for the next quarter,” Oneda said.

Sony also revised its forecast for PS3 sales by the end of the fiscal year in March from 11 million units to 9.5 million. Combined with sales from the last fiscal year, that should put the PS3 at about 15 million units lifetime-to-date. By contrast, Microsoft has already sold 17.7 million Xbox 360s, and Nintendo has sold more than 20 million Wiis.

In Sony’s core electronic biz, sales increased 10% to $18.2 billion, with strong worldwide demand for Bravia LCD TVs and Vaio PCs driving results. Operating income, however, fell 7% to $1.46 billion as steep price declines in LCD sets overtook cost cuts and dragged profits down.

Total revenue for the company was $25 billion in the quarter and net income was $1.8 billion.

For the fiscal year ending March 31, Sony expects sales to reach $83.9 billion, a projection unchanged since October. However, company forecasters believe that the appreciating Japanese currency and U.S. economic woes will impact operating income, leading to a downward revision to $3.83 billion.

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