Sony posted a surprise quarterly loss as the weak stock market ate into the value of its securities holdings, but it forecast a bigger-than-expected profit this year as it boosts sales of digital cameras and flat TVs.
Sony, locked in a three-way battle with Microsoft Corp and Nintendo Co Ltd in the game industry, saw losses in its videogame operations narrow as it cut manufacturing costs of the PlayStation 3 game console.
The Japanese electronics and entertainment conglomerate also enjoyed robust sales of digital cameras, but its flat TV operations struggled due to fierce price competition.
Sony said on Wednesday it expects its operating profit to grow 20 percent to 450 billion yen ($4.34 billion) in the year to March 2009, beating a consensus of 428.5 billion yen in a poll of 17 analysts by Reuters Estimates.
Japanese exporters including Sony are facing tough business conditions this year due to a firmer yen, rising raw materials prices, and signs of a slowdown in the global economy.
Operating losses came to 4.7 billion yen in January-March, an improvement from the 113.37 billion yen loss it posted a year earlier when it was hit hard by hefty startup costs for the PS3.
But the result still fell short of an average estimate of a 27.3 billion yen profit from 5 analysts surveyed by Reuters.
Sony aims to sell 17 million liquid crystal display TVs in the year to next March, up from 10.6 million in the year just ended. That compares with Sharp Corp's target to sell 10 million LCD TVs and Matsushita's plans to sell 11 million flat TVs.
Unlike Sony and Sharp, Panasonic maker Matsushita Electric Industrial Co Ltd sells both LCD and plasma models.
In a bid to secure enough display panels for its Bravia LCD TVs, Sony plans to take a one-third stake in Sharp's 380 billion yen LCD panel plant set for completion by March 2010.
It will also be building a new LCD panel production line with Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, Sony's partner in panel production but archrival in retail outlets.
For the full-year ended March 31, operating profit grew more than fivefold to 374.5 billion yen, helped by smaller game losses and one-off gains from asset sales.
But the result still missed its own forecast in January of 410 billion yen as a slide in stock markets forced Sony's financial unit to post appraisal losses on its securities holdings.
Shares in Sony closed up 1.3 percent at 4,850 yen ahead of the announcement, outperforming the Tokyo stock market's electrical machinery index, which rose 0.1 percent. Sony shares have lost 23 percent since January through Tuesday, while the subindex slid 7 percent.