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Sony Corporation (NYSE:SNE)

F2Q10 2010 Earnings Call

October 29, 2010 8:00 am ET

Executives

Sam Levenson - SVP of Investor Relations

Masaru Kato - CFO

Robert Wiesenthal, Group Executive, Corporate Development and M&A for Sony Corporation and EVP and CFO of Sony Corporation of America

Tsuchikawa - Senior General Manager, IR division.

Analysts

Daniel Ernst - Hudson Square Research

Kota Ezawa - Citigroup

Yuji Fujimori - Barclays Capital

Mark Harding - Maxim Group

Operator

Welcome to the Sony Corporation Q2 Fiscal Year 2010 Financial Results Conference Call. At this time all participants are in listen-only mode. We will be facilitating a question-and-answer session towards the end of this conference. (Operator Instructions)

As a reminder, this conference is being recorded for replay purposes. I would now turn the presentation over to your host for today’s call to Sam Levenson, Senior Vice President of Investor Relations at Sony Corporation of America. You may proceed.

Sam Levenson

Thank you all for joining us today, October 29, 2010 for the discussion of Sony’s second quarter results. I am Sam Levenson, Senior Vice President of Investor Relations at Sony Corporation of America.

With me on the conference call tonight is, Masaru Kato, CFO of Sony Corporation, Robert Wiesenthal, Group Executive, Corporate Development and M&A for Sony Corporation and EVP and CFO of Sony Corporation of America and again Tsuchikawa Senior General Manager of Investor Relations division.

Thank you all very much for joining us. In just a few moments, we will review today’s announcement, then we will be available to answer your questions. Please be aware that statements made during the following remarks and Q&A session with respect to Sony’s current plans, estimates, strategies, press release and other statements that are not historical facts are forward-looking statements about the future performance of Sony. These statements are based on management’s assumptions in light of the information currently available to it, and therefore you should not place undue reliance on them.

Sony cautions you that a number of important factors could cause actual results to differ materially from those discussed in the forward-looking statements. For additional information as to risks and uncertainties as well as other factors that could cause actual results to differ, please refer to today’s press release, which can be accessed by visiting www.sony.net/ir.

Let me remind you that a webcast replay of the investor meeting held earlier today, along with the slide presented at that meeting and our detailed earnings release are available on our website for your access. With that, let me turn to today’s announcement.

The results for the second quarter and our upwardly revised earnings forecast for the full fiscal year are reflective of the strong operational turnaround that the company is experiencing. Unlike a year ago, when the bulk of our earnings and our earnings growth came from the financial services businesses, we are experiencing expanding margins in our core businesses with substantial improvement.

In particularly this past quarter from both game and VAIO. In fact, this is the fourth consecutive quarter that the game business has been profitable and the third consecutive quarter the Sony Ericsson has been profitable. As a result, we are on track to achieve ¥170 billion year-over-year improvement in operating profit.

The recent successes of innovative products as well as building momentum in new products are helping us to achieve the success. For example, Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 smartphone achieved 21% market share shortly after its launch in Japan. Our new NEX-3 and NEX-5 cameras with interchangeable lenses have met with great success and the recent launch of both Sony Internet TV powered by Google TV and the PlayStation move are both off to a very strong start.

Similarly, our entertainment businesses continue to generate earnings in line with our plan, and we have a very strong pipeline of upcoming movies and music in the next six months. In addition, the video game pipeline has a number of image titles including Gran Turismo 5, LittleBigPlanet 2, and Killzone 3.

Clearly, challenges remain. Certain geographies such as the US and Europe, certain products such as the TV category, and obviously foreign exchange rates are creating a strong headwind for us. Given this, we have a very cautious view on the second half of the fiscal year, but despite that, we have raised our full year operating profit forecast to ¥200 to reflect the strength of the results achieved in the second quarter. Let’s discuss those results in more detail.

Consolidated sales for the quarter increased 4%. On a local currency basis, sales increased 13%. Consolidated income of ¥68.7 billion was recorded, an improvement of ¥101.2 billion compared to the same quarter of the previous fiscal year, primarily due to improvements in operating results in the network products and services segment. Net income attributable to Sony’s shareholders was ¥31.1 billion, an improvement of ¥57.5 billion, compared to the same quarter of the previous fiscal year.

On a segment-by-segment basis, let’s start with the Consumer, Professional and Devices segment. Sales increased 1% and sales to outside consumers increased 3%, primarily due to an increased in LCD TV sales brought on by an increase in units.

Operating income increased primarily due to an increase in gross profit, resulting from the sales increase, an improvement in the cost of sales ratio and a decrease in restructuring charges.

SG&A expenses increased due to aggressive advertising and promotion efforts designed to support our strong product line up.

Excluding the impact of restructuring charges, the product categories with improved results included professional solutions, which benefited from higher sales are primarily digital cinema projectors and broadcasting professional equipment for HD production and semiconductors, which benefited from an increase in sales of image sensors.

Television business sales increased 15% to (inaudible) the unit sales year-on-year to 4.9 million units. Excluding restructuring charges, ¥16 billion in operating loss was recorded; a deterioration of ¥5 billion and is progressed the same quarter of the previous fiscal year. This is due to a significant drop in sales prices despite a continued reduction in cost and our efforts in cost improvement.

Compact digital camera sales decreased slightly primarily due to price declines and the negative impact of foreign exchange rates although unit sales increased significantly year-on-year. Operating income decreased as price declines, currency and aggressive investment and sales promotion designed to expand the business offset the benefits from volume increases and cost reductions. Video camera sales and profit decreased impact of foreign exchange rates and unit sales declines but operating profit margin was basically flat due to cost reduction.

Turning next to the Network Products and Services segment, sales increased 5% primarily due to an increase in PC sales. Operating results improved significantly year-on-year due to a significant improvement in the cost of sales of ratio and an increase in gross profit from higher sales although exchange rates had a negative impact. Excluding the impact of restructuring charges categorized with improved results including game, which benefited from increased sales and significant improvements in cost of PS3 and PC which had higher unit sales.

Game sales decreased 13% year-on-year to ¥171 billion. This is primarily due to a decrease in unit sales of PSP hardware and PS2 software, although PS3 hardware and software sales were strong. Operating results improved ¥54 billion year-on-year to ¥13 billion profit. This significant improvement resulted from the PS3 hardware cost reductions and an increase in unit sales of PS3 software despite the negative impact of exchange rates. As I mentioned earlier, the game business has been profitable for four consecutive quarters.

PS3 hardware sales units were 3.5 million units, more than 3.2 recorded in the same quarter last year when the new PS3 model was introduced. This was driven by an introduction hit software titles. We are on track to reach our target of 15 million units for the year. With the launch of the PlayStation Move in September and other actions momentum is growing for the year-end selling season.

PC sales increased and market increased in all regions resulting from an enhanced product line up. Operating results improved primarily due to unit sales increase although prices declined.

Turning next to Pictures. In Pictures sales increased 6% and our operating results improved. Theatrical revenue increased significantly due to the strong performance of films like including Salt and Resident Evil After Life. Operating results improved primarily due to the strong motion picture sales and an increase in revenue from television channels outside of the United States.

Sales in the Music segment decreased 11% and operating income decreased slightly. The decrease in sales was primarily due to the strong sales of Michael Jackson catalog product in the same quarter of the previous year. The contraction of the physical music market and the appreciation of the Yen are also reasons for the decrease in sales. The decrease in profits resulted from the decrease in sales.

Next is Financial Services. Financial Services revenue increased 10% and operating income increased significantly. The increase in revenue was primarily due to gains in sales of securities and an increase in insurance premium revenue at Sony Life. The significant increase in operating income was primarily due to an increase in net gains from sales of securities.

Sales at our equity affiliate Sony Ericsson decrease 1%. There was a significant rise in the average selling price resulting from a mix shift brought on by an increase in smartphones, but unit sales of mobile phones as a result of streamlining the product portfolio. However, income before income taxes improved significantly due to the benefit of cost reductions and a favorable impact of the mix shift. As a result, Sony recorded equity income for Sony Ericsson of ¥2.6 billion for the quarter, compared to a loss of ¥10.9 billion in the same quarter last year. That’s three consecutive quarters of profit for Sony Ericsson.

Finally, let us review the revised sales and earnings forecast. On the top line we are reducing our sales and revenue forecast of ¥7.6 trillion to ¥7.4 trillion for the year. This results in a revised foreign exchange rate assumption to account for the appreciation of the yen. A yen’s US dollar exchange rate assumption for the second half of the fiscal year moves from approximately ¥90 to approximately ¥83. there is no change to our yen to euro assumption of approximately ¥110.

Our operating profit forecast has been raised from ¥180 billion to ¥200 billion primarily as a result of the strong results achieved during the second quarter. On segment basis, we raised our estimate for network products and services primarily due to the strong results from game and PCs and lowered our expectations for consumer professional devices mainly due to the impact of the updated foreign exchange rate assumption and deterioration of the North American LCD TV market. Our operating profit forecast for the other segments have not changed materially.

At this time, we would be pleased to take your questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Our first question is from the line of Daniel Ernst with Hudson Square Research. You may proceed.

Daniel Ernst - Hudson Square Research

I have a couple of questions on game and a couple of questions from the TV side. First on the game profitability, what is [happening] with contribution from reversal of prior period inventory charges? Secondly, can you comment on the sales of the new Move motion controller?

On the TV side given the deterioration in sales here in North America, what gives you the confidence to maintain the overall forecast for 25 million units globally? Can you comment on the reception or proportionate sales coming from 3D televisions? Finally, could you comment on the recent moves by the US Broadcast Networks to block access to the video sites from the Sony internet powered Google TV? Thank you.

Masaru Kato

I will start with the gaming PS3. There are no inventory charges affecting the profitability of PS3 in the second quarter. Cost have come down, again the negative margins on the hardware have been eliminated since last April so, we are in the mode of making money on each unit we sell at the moment. So, the profitability with a combination of reduced costs in the PS3, quite impressive sales on the software of PS3 and reduction in SG&A.

On the TV side, 25 million, a lot depends on how we do in the third quarter which includes the holiday season. If you look at the business on the global basis, it’s a different picture region by region. If you take the emerging markets Brazil, Russia, India, China they are all doing double digit growth in the TV area at least for our business okay. If you look at Japan our sales is booming in TV because we have this government subsidy in place and you get a refund for certain categories of TV that you buy.

Excluding those areas if you look at North America is a little bit troublesome in that sell through for the past several months have been below last year’s level, and we see some slight develop in inventory. That’s one soft spot we have. All in all, we are still aiming to do 25 million but a lot depends on third quarter.

Robert Wiesenthal

Just add a little bit on gaming, we sold 2.5 million Move machine in the US and Europe and the momentum continues to be very strong, yeah.

Masaru Kato

On 3D our expectations at the beginning of the year was to do about 10% of our sales. It’s quite early days but so far our forecast seems to be a little bit high in that it’s a little bit below expectations, but think we have to wait for good software (inaudible) to be available for the consumers to really measure what 3D can do for us.

Robert Wiesenthal

Question about the Google TV and some efforts to block certain content from appearing over the set we as you know we recently marked the TV. We’ve been very successful on terms of a launch both in terms of the standalone television set and the Google Blu-ray player. It is very difficult to manage access on these IPTVs with respect to network content. Because of browser capability there are lots of places where users can go to access various contents.

The networks earn significant piece earn significant fees than the conventional distributors and it’s incumbent upon the content companies just find ways to monetize their content, and both the content companies there are working closely with Google and other providers of IPTV services just to score new models and these things are starting to happen whether you look at our own curiosity, Netflix, Google everybody is experimenting and everyone is working really hard to come up with business models so all the participants can earn money and consumers can get access to their content.

Daniel Ernst - Hudson Square Research

One follow up question on the 3D, you mentioned that the software would be helpful component on that. Rob, do you have a sense of what the pipeline looks like for 3D Blu-ray because don’t seen there be a lot in the markets today?

Robert Wiesenthal

What I will say is more and more studies obviously are planning what we call high quality 3D content because it is clear that consumers will respond in force with the opening of their pocket books and their wallets for quality 3D content. First quarter next year we hope to launch our 3D network which is joint venture with Discovery and Imax. They are already actively producing 3D content.

With respect to upcoming releases we have number of films that are coming out that are 3D free from the launch. On Blu-ray Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs has already come out. That was our first release in terms of the pipeline. Green Hornet will be on 3D. With respect to rest of the year, we probably got four or five Blu-ray 3D titles that will be out by the end of the year.

It’s starting to happen, the penetration is coming in terms of the set. You will soon see 3D will be more of feature on this television set as opposed to having the nomenclature of a 3D set alone and the price will be more and more attractive to the consumers when months go on. We are optimistic with the rights, the content has to get there and luckily there’s a lot of interest from the content producers to come out with their quality content.

Operator

Your next question is from the line of Kota Ezawa from Citigroup. You may proceed.

Kota Ezawa - Citigroup

I have a question on the digital camera space which has been highlighted in presentation today. I see a full HD movie function is becoming more common. If you believe Alpha 55 will be a big hit and also your Cyber-Shot product lines also have a full HD movie ability. The question is, do you think this is the key of the full HD movie function, would be the key for the critical differentiation against, say, digital SLR giants like Canon or Nikon?

I like to ask you the Sony’s target for the next year Cyber-Shot, Alpha series or NEX with the market share operating margin direction maybe? Also I’d appreciate if you can mention operating margin range for those camera products in the second quarter actual and second half company’s estimate? I may have a follow up question. Thank you.

Masaru Kato

I cannot talk products strategy but let me explain it in this way. Now, full HD on cameras, it is an important feature but everybody is doing it now. It’s becoming a common standard feature. How we could apply our technology to make the best high quality offering in this area. Obviously you know that we do have our camcorder business. We have been in this business since the industry started.

Now, what we are doing is that we have organizationally we have combined the camcorder group with the high end camera group so that we have a seamless strategy between still pictures and camcorder function. So, I cannot talk about specific products but what will come out of this combination of technology we have a track record and hopefully that track record would indicate that we will come up with something very exciting.

Ezawa, maybe I could add one point. Strength of our digital imaging business is coming from the very strong co-working relationship between the semiconductor group and digital imaging group. Historically both groups used to work independently and have their own road maps and they did not come together too well.

As you know, our image sensor groups makes the most competitive image sensors in the industry, the most innovative and most effective. The success of the NEX camera came from the fact that to meet the product concept, the semiconductor groups worked to make appropriate image sensors that would fit the camera, and at a very fast time to market. This is what we will continue to do to differentiate ourselves in the market.

Robert Wiesenthal

Just a few words to that, the camera business for us is what you call a vertically integrated business model in that we have our image sensors produced in-house we have our signal processors in-house and in the future we may have optics and the lenses also in-house.

Now, with the combination of the three we can do a lot of things to compete of lens manufacturers who are in the business doing the kind of horizontal sharing of resources, here is one strength that we can mention. Just that a little bit more to what he mentioned.

Kota Ezawa - Citigroup

Do you see any better numbers operating margin or market share numbers in the coming quarters and thus (inaudible) because of these new features which the Sony is running ahead of others. So, if there is any relative point on the upcoming features?

Masaru Kato

In the past (inaudible) lens reflexes, we started out with a bang with the Alpha series but after that our market share worldwide a lot depends on country but on average below 10%. Now with the introduction of the NEX-5 and 3 and Alpha-55 our market share again depends on the country and the supply we can provide, in high countries the market shares is close to 30%.

We hope to continue this trend because both cameras are opening up new applications to consumers who in the past would not come into the digital-SLR market. Our NEX series are attracting a lot of female consumers and I hope this translate into higher market share and better profit margins for our alpha series business overall. I cannot give you a number but very positive business for us.

Kota Ezawa - Citigroup

I am afraid I am taking a bit long time but I have one more question here. This is about a Google TV. Is it correct to say Google TV is compromising hardware margin, I mean the TV hardware in order to increase install base to grow up more sales opportunity in network business.

Robert Wiesenthal

No, I don’t think that’s fair. Obviously there is a curve of any innovative new television set in terms of profitability; however, we think there is upside here because for the first time Sony will be able to generate revenues from a consumer past the point of purchase of the television with not only content but targeted marketing sponsorship and other services and even casual gaming which is something the we were never able to do with the television consumer before.

Operator

Your next is from the line of Yuji Fujimori with Barclays Capital.

Yuji Fujimori - Barclays Capital

The first question is the regional performance. Beyond Tokyo briefing meeting Kato’s on commented BRIC’s revenue was up 30% in Q2, and I’m curious how about profitability or profit contribution by region. That’s the first question.

Secondly, in terms of TV operation was very disappointed in Q2 and that’s why I want to ask about the inventory condition, not just the Sony, but also as a industry situation and also in Q3 and Q4, what magnitude you have already factored in, in terms of the potential risks about the volume shortfall or price competition?

Masaru Kato

Profitability in BRIC countries, I cannot give you numbers specifically by product line, by country, but just to give you a flavor of what I meant. Comparatively speaking, the big markets the United States and Europe, huge volume numbers, but because everybody is in that market varies to be price competition. That’s one reason why the profitability in North America is not as good.

If you go to other areas, it not as tough as the US market for one thing in terms of competition. Now, the other thing is, factor that is staying here is the exchange rates in North American countries. Typically, the exchange rates for local currencies compared to the dollar are relatively high at the moment and that is helping us when we accounted are peanuts. In translated into yen, it’s getting us some question at the moment.

Robert Wiesenthal

Let me give you a little more picture in terms of our consumer electronic sales. I’ll discuss on a local currency basis, because that gives you a better picture. Basically, this year compared to the previous year sales is growing somewhere around 20%, and the most growing area is the emerging markets. That’s approximately 30% to 40% of our sales and that’s growing at roughly 30%.

The second almost going hard in Japan with the eco point, and that is roughly somewhere around 50% of our sales, and in the second quarter it grew close to 20% plus as you can see that’s going to go higher, when it gets in to the Christmas season. The US and Europe is the rest and they are all both showing positive growth, so that gives you approximately 20% number.

Second point, when you start looking at average ASPs and what we are selling in the emerging markets it is comparable to what we are achieving in the more established countries. Actually ASPs in digital cameras in China is actually one of the highest. That’s one example.

Masaru Kato

On TV side, to elaborate a little further more I mentioned this afternoon at the analyst meeting. Again, what I said was that, we are aiming to all prepared to do whatever need to reach the objective mainly now 25 million TV sets for the fiscal year. Now, would we do it at the expenses of our bottom line?

There is to extent to how much we are prepared to lose money, but this year, we have a better product line up. This year, we need to regain the market share that we lost last year. To continue this business into four years to come, so what I said was we are to prepare to spend the money on marketing.

Sometimes, it may translate into aggressive pricing, but between the two we are prepared to spend the money as necessary. That in turn translate into the very, I would say, conservative outlook on possibility on TV and our business in general for the second half. Sorry, I can’t give specific number how much we have for at the [Titan] promotion, but you can get the flavor of what I meant.

Yuji Fujimori - Barclays Capital

If you have any collar on the inventory side for TV business? Could you give me any sense?

Masaru Kato

The market inventory, and this is no secret, sell through for the past several weeks months have been below last year. Not naming any just specific company, I mean trade inventory is rather heavy at the moment. That is one reason we need to be prepared for another (inaudible) very competitive market going into the Christmas season.

Operator

The next question is from the line of Mark Harding from Maxim Group. You may proceed.

Mark Harding - Maxim Group

Just wanted to follow up on me on the TV side. It seems that ASPs were down a little bit more year-over-year and the industry and I was just wondering why given that product line is more competitive there is that delta between Sony ASPs decline in the industry.

Masaru Kato

Let me put this way the year on year decline in our ASP being you say higher than industry, this is partly because our prices last year were high. You may recall that last year product wise we are not in a very good position to compete LE backlit TVs and you heard the story many times.

Our cost structure again although improving over time not at an ideal situation. So, last year our strategy was not to pursue sales or numbers. We held our projections at 15 million and stuck to it, and tried to balanced profitability and market share. We held prices pretty high. This year with better products line up and the intention to move as much product as we can to regain momentum and market share, year-on-year that resulted did a higher drop in average selling price for our business.

Masaru Kato

One additional point is that we are looking at the China market we introduced some very low end affordable TVs to penetrate more on the China market which we call the BX model. It started at a 32 inch at 29,991 and so the share of those types of model increasing naturally pushed down the ASP.

Mark Harding - Maxim Group

Can you give sort metric about Qriocity adoption and perhaps how the strategy fits with content through Google TV or for that matter with Netflix integration?

Robert Wiesenthal

We can’t give you numbers on Qriocity, but what I will tell you is Qriocity is optimized to perform on Sony devices, whereas a lot of other services has been an multitude of devices Qriocity is optimized to have the best experience for the user on a Sony device. Additionally because of our ownership of content both with Sony pictures and Sony Music and even PlayStation, the hope is to offer unique experiences to our consumers that you can’t find anywhere else. We are seeing a wide range of usage by our consumers on connected Blu-ray players and television set for all services including Qriocity, Netflix and others.

Mark Harding - Maxim Group

Lastly, I want to touch on a few questions from the Tokyo call, I got specifically relating to the product roadmap for PSP and certain mobile gaming as well as tablet, given that most PC companies are coming out with tablet and PSPs really started to show its age at this point. How you are handling the product roadmap or perhaps I can put this in another way, is there a sense of urgency to accelerate product development for the time to market compete more effectively with some of these non traditional competitors like Apple.

Masaru Kato

I don’t think we can discuss specific product or features at this conference call. Mobile gaming is a very important business area for us. We started out with the PSP that was our first mobile gaming console, but since then the market as you know has expanded in to bigger arenas that gaming on mobile phones, gaming on tablets, gaming on and also certain mobiles devices.

The PSP being a proprietary platform was more concentrated I’d say core gaming segment rather than the light game, but now we are addressing that market as well. I can not be specific as to how we will introduce new product to address these market, but one thing I can say is that we have those markets address and we will come out with products and services to capture the broader gaming market.

I know this will be a clip of answer, but please wait until we are ready to announce whatever products or services that we may come up with.

Robert Wiesenthal

In addition to our strength obviously in the hardware, the strength obviously we have strength around our gaming business having our own gaming content. We have the network services and also we have many different types of devices and the interconnectivity between the devices certainly help our business proposition be more interesting to the consumer and that’s what we have to do.

Mark Harding - Maxim Group

Okay fair enough. Thank you, very much

Operator

At this time, there are no other questions in the queue. I would like to turn the call over to Sam Levenson for closing remarks.

Sam Levenson

I have to thank everybody for joining us this evening from Tokyo and all around the world. Any follow-up questions you may have, please feel free to call our Investor Relations offices in London, New York, and Tokyo. Thank you and good night.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for your participation in today’s conference call. That concludes the presentation. You may disconnect.

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