Most investors consider Sony (NYSE:SNE) to be "deader than a doornail."
The onetime king of consumer electronics, back when that phrase meant something, has been wandering aimlessly for over a decade, and has suffered mounting losses. Despite this, it keeps paying a quarterly dividend, most recently 15 cents/share, which some say makes it a bargain.
Maybe. Personally, I wouldn't touch a company that's eating its seed corn. Giving cash to shareholders you don't earn back is just liquidation by other means.
Still, CEO Kazuo Hirai has now been at the helm for 16 months. He comes from the games unit, which was its only Japanese bright spot. (The U.S. assets, in movies and TV, have generally done well.) So there is enormous speculation that the press conference scheduled for February 20 will be the unveiling of a new game machine, a PlayStation 4. Sony has a YouTube video teasing the announcement as just that.
But if all Hirai brings out is another game machine, expect another fall in shares. Game consoles seem to be a dying business, with Nintendo hemorrhaging and Microsoft now leading a declining market. It's assumed that gamers are steadily moving to social networks, to mobile platforms, or both.
Still, back when I started writing about technology, Sony's position was similar to what Apple's is now. What Hirai actually has is something clever up his sleeve?
Sony recently took control of the old Sony-Ericsson mobile phone unit and brought out a new line called Xperia, smartphones running Android. What if you made one of those little guys PS/3 compatible?
Sony has long tried to make the PlayStation an "all in one" machine, with such features as DVD drives and Internet connections. In the last decade this meant higher prices for poor performance, which is why Nintendo's Wii did so well at first. What if it has something more like Apple TV?
If anything surprising or amazing comes out of the February 20 event, even something different, it could easily have a profound impact on the stock price. I speculated last year that the studio alone is worth over $2 billion on a market cap of $15 billion, and it still has a cash horde worth almost $14 billion, according to Google Finance. In other words, most investors consider the base company to be less than worthless.
This was just the position Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) was in before it surprised everyone and named Marissa Mayer its CEO. If Hirai can spring a similar surprise, gains will follow. And even if he doesn't, the cash position means your risk is minimal.