Revenue and operating income slumped at Sony ( SNE) in its fiscal third quarter, as sagging sales of its PlayStation 2 and other electronics products weighed on results. But the electronics giant posted an improved bottom line, thanks to an accounting change. Investors largely shrugged off the report, which came long before the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange. In recent trading, Sony ADR's were off 22 cents, or 0.6%, to $36.72. The declines in the company's results were largely expected. Last week, the company
lowered its outlook on its full-year revenue and operating income, warning of falling prices on portable audio products, DVD recorders, televisions and other products. In a statement, Sony Chairman and CEO Nobuyuki Idei warned that the company's results may not improve any time soon. "Looking forward, we anticipate that the intense environment within the electronics industry is likely to continue," Idei said. "Sony reiterates its belief that strengthening the competitiveness of our electronics products is the most pressing issue facing our management today." In the holiday quarter, Sony earned 143.8 billion yen, or 138.08 yen per share. That compared favorably to earnings of 92.6 billion yen, or 92.51 yen a share, in the year-earlier period. But the company's sales fell 7.5% to 2.15 trillion yen year over year. And Sony's operating income plummeted 13% to 138.2 billion yen from the third quarter a year prior. As noted in the company's updated guidance, in the third quarter Sony changed its outlook on its U.S. operations, based on an improvement in those operations results. Thanks to that changed outlook, the company was able to use in the quarter a higher portion of tax credits that it had generated from past losses of its U.S. businesses.
The net result of that change was that Sony's effective tax rate in the quarter was 4.7%, compared with 42.8% in the third quarter a year earlier. In terms of its individual business segments, sales and operating income fell at Sony's games, electronics and music divisions. Those declines were partially offset by revenue and operating income gains at the company's film and financial services divisions. Within the electronics business, sales fell less than 1% to 1,510.8 trillion yen, but operating income plunged 23.3% to 49.4 billion yen. Sony blamed the drop in operating income on largely on falling average prices for its video cameras. But the company noted that overall sales of its portable audio devices and traditional televisions also declined. Despite being the company behind the Walkman and the sports line of jam boxes and other audio products, Sony has struggled in recent years as digital music players have driven the growth of the industry. Apple ( AAPL) currently dominates the digital music market with its iPod players. On the games front, Sony's sales fell 23% to 282.6 billion yen, while its operating income dropped 36.8% to 44.6 billion yen. Although the company actually shipped 560,000 more PlayStation 2 consoles in the quarter than it did in the third quarter last year, actual unit sales of the device declined in Japan, the United States and Canada. The company is in the middle of replacing its original PlayStation 2 with a more svelte one and struggled last fall to stock shelves with the updated device. The company also dropped the price on its console last year, adding to the sales decline. On a brighter note, the company's new PlayStation Portable handheld device has seen "positive" sales, Sony said. The company had shipped 510,000 PSP units by the end of the quarter, it said.
The company's music division saw sales drop 60.1% to 56.3 billion yen and operating income fall 25.6% to 12 billion yen. But those declines may overstate the music business' problems. In August, Sony merged its U.S.-based music business with that of Bertelsmann to create Sony BMG. Because of that merger, Sony warned that its music results were not comparable with those of prior periods. One of the company's few highlights was in its pictures division, which includes its film and television studios. Thanks largely to the success of the Seinfeld and Spider-Man 2 DVDs, the picture business posted an increase in sales of 12.1% to 203.1 billion yen, and a jump in operating income of 232.2% to 18.6 billion yen.