* Hackers hit Sony websites in 4 countries
* Macquarie upgrades stock to outperform from neutral
* Sony says 2011/12 operating profit to match 2010/11
* To post $3.2 bln annual net loss for last year (Updates with Sony Ericsson data breach)
By Mayumi Negishi
TOKYO, May 24 (Reuters) - Sony Corp’s (6758.T) shares bounced back from two-month lows after the electronics conglomerate said this year’s operating profit would match last year‘s, easing worries about the impact of the March earthquake.
Separately, Sony said on Tuesday websites in four countries were hacked in the latest of a series of security breaches.
Among the break-ins, personal information for 8,500 people was leaked from its Greek Sony Music Entertainment website.
A spokeswoman for Sony’s Sony Ericsson mobile phone venture with Sweden’s Ericsson (ERICb.ST) said that some 2,000 customer data records were taken from a server that ran a shopping website in Canada.
The company said all four sites have been taken down and that no credit card information had been registered.
In its first estimate for the year to March 2012, Sony said operating profit would come in around 200 billion yen ($2.44 billion), prompting Macquarie to raise its rating on the stock to “outperform” from “neutral.” Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse and UBS reiterated their “overweight,” “buy” or “outperform” ratings.
Shares in Sony, the maker of PlayStation video games and Vaio computers, ended up 2.7 percent, outperforming a 0.4 percent rise in Tokyo’s electrical machinery subindex .IELEC.T. Sony’s shares had dipped nearly 1 percent in early trade, to their lowest level since the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.
Analysts said Sony had provided markets with a realistic view of the impact of the quake and the PlayStation network hacking, both of which had weighed on the shares.
Sony said it expects the quake and the hacking incident to drag down operating profit by 164 billion yen in the current financial year. In contrast, the decline in Sony’s market capitalization of 264 billion yen since the quake “looks overdone,” Macquarie analyst Jeff Loff wrote in a report.
“With shares cheap and cost impacts one-time in nature, we expect the stock to reverse its fall.”
Sony expects to report a net loss of 260 billion yen ($3.2 billion) for the year ended March 31, its third straight annual net loss, after writing off tax credits following Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. [ID:nL3E7GN0SO]
SPECIAL REPORT on Sony: link.reuters.com/xyp69r
Sony's tablets link.reuters.com/far29r
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ANALYSIS-What’s special about Sony hack? [ID:nN28275152]
Many of Sony’s rivals, including Panasonic Corp (6752.T), have yet to issue forecasts for the current year due to uncertainty following the disaster.
Some fund managers, however, said Sony’s shares, down 22 percent so far this year, might not see sharp gains.
“I agree that shares are unlikely to keep sliding, but neither do I see any new catalysts that would bring the share price up. I expect shares to continue meandering back and forth at low levels,” said Makoto Kikuchi, chief executive officer at Myojo Asset Management.
“It’s not just Sony. Panasonic, Sharp ((6753.T) Corp) -- all Japanese home electronics makers have seen the base of their share price sink. They can’t compete in prices, so the only route they have is to create new markets with high added value. Products that would make people pay more.”
“Sony used to have this ability. But I don’t see anything that would make share prices rise this fiscal year.”
Sony has seen a series of hacking attacks that have exposed more than 100 million accounts on its online gaming network to possible data theft, casting doubt on Sony’s bid to reinvent itself through its online business [ID:nL3E7GN2TM].
The company cut its annual net earnings forecast for the year ended March 31 to a loss of 260 billion yen from its previous estimate of a profit of 70 billion yen.
Credit Suisse analyst Shunsuke Tsuchiya said shares in Sony were close to bottoming out and Morgan Stanley’s Masahiro Ono said the announcement cleared uncertainty and was a positive.
Sony, which had developed but scrapped products that could be said to predate both the iPod and iPad, is set to announce its full results on Thursday. ($1 = 81.955 Japanese Yen) (Additional reporting by Jim Finkle in Boston; Isabel Reynolds; Editing by Edmund Klamann, Anshuman Daga and Gerald E. McCormick)