Shares in Japan's consumer electronics giant Sony Corp slipped quietly to a quarter century low this week, a sign of how the Walkman and PlayStation maker has lost its innovative edge and fallen far behind rivals Apple and Samsung Electronics. On Thursday, Sony will post a record annual net loss of around $6.4 billion, and investors will look to new CEO Kazuo Hirai for signs he has the strategy to fix the group and return it to profit.

At a briefing last month, he sketched out a future driven by smartphones, games and cameras, as well as medical devices and electric car batteries, along with big cost cuts in a TV business that has lost more than $10 billion in 8 years. Hirai, little more than a month into his job as CEO, set a target for group sales of 8.5 trillion yen in two years, with an operating margin of more than 5 percent. “This is our only chance to change,” he told an April 12 news conference.

On Friday, Panasonic Corp, too, will post a record full-year net loss – of close to $10 billion as it restructures its ailing TV operations.

Both companies have promised long-awaited turnarounds and are under new leadership. Kazuhiro Tsuga takes over as president of Panasonic next month. Investors want to see signs of a common solution to the challenge of consumer electronics convergence – where consumer electronics, telecoms, content and software meet – and nimbler foreign competitors.

Operating profit at Panasonic – which, on a play on its earlier name of Matsushita, has been called Maneshita, or copycat – should increase almost 10-fold to 241 billion yen in the current year to next March, according to a mean estimate of 20 analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

In the year just ended, the maker of Viera TVs, Lumix cameras and a range of household appliances, is expected to eke out an operating profit of around 25 billion yen, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S, hit by a stronger yen that ate into overseas earnings and by production disruption from last year's earthquake.

Things will change

Things will change

Shares in Panasonic, valued at around $18 billion, have dropped by a quarter in the past 6 weeks

Sony, too, should return to an operating profit this year, of 173 billion yen, according to a mean estimate of 18 analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Sony's own target of 180 billion yen is “not out of the question,” said JP Morgan analyst Yoshiharu Izumi. “But the target is not an easy one.”

The central issue for Sony and Panasonic is that losses in TV operations are wiping out profits in other divisions – music, movies and insurance at Sony and household appliances and solar panels at Panasonic.

Sony's Hirai has promised to end TV losses in two years, while winning back market share with Sony's Xperia smartphones and other gadgets.

“Sony is looking to double its smartphone market share, but we saw no clear strategy for differentiation,” Goldman Sachs analyst, Takashi Watanabe said in a report last month.

At Panasonic, Tsuga's growth hopes lie in solar energy, batteries and in selling more washing machines and hair dryers to developing Asian markets.

“All the general Japanese electronics makers have the same problems, they've all become maneshita,” said Yuuki Sakurai, the CEO of Fukoka Capital Management in Tokyo.


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