Losses narrow under Kazuo Hirai

TOKYO — Sony posted yet more dismal numbers on Thursday, defeating the expectations of analysts that it might finally turn a profit after six straight quarterly losses.

Instead, the company ran the total up to seven, with a net loss of ¥15.5 billion ($194 million) in the July-September quarter. This was an improvement over the $338 million loss recorded in the same period the previous year. Also, operating profit moved into the plus column with $379 million, a boost over the $20 million loss racked up last year. Sony attributed the gains to better results in its devices and home entertainment and sound segments. Sales edged up 1.9% to $20.1 billion.

Prexy Kazuo Hirai has hardly been idle since taking over the helm in April, cutting Sony’s stake in its TV biz, which has bled red ink for eight straight years, while moving into more profitable areas such as medical devices, digital imaging, smartphones and games. Sony has also announced job cuts totaling 10,000, ended two TV panel-making ventures, sold its chemical products biz and bought a stake in scandal-hit Olympus.

But sales of televisions and other core products continue to be soft in the global economic downturn, while the strong yen has eaten into its overseas profits.

Sony said that its forecast for the fiscal year ending in March will stay at $250 million net profit and $1.63 billion in operating profit. It expects sales to total $85 billion, down slightly from the previous estimate of $82.5 billion.

In the film segment operating profit fell 61.8% to $99 million, while sales sank 3.7% to $2 billion. Sterling B.O. for “The Amazing Spider-Man” and strong U.S. network programming sales boosted revenues, as did lower production costs for made-for-cable television programming, but the sale of “Spider-Man” merchandising rights in the same period in 2011 made this year’s quarterly numbers look weak by comparison. The poor B.O. performance of “Total Recall” and softer ad sales from Sony’s TV networks in India didn’t help either.

The game division also did little to brighten the bottom line, with sales falling 15.8% in the quarter to $1.85 billion and operating profit sinking 23.8% to $29 million. Stronger sales of the Vita handheld, which bowed in December, could not offset the lower sales of PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable software and hardware.

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