TOKYO Sony Corp will post its third straight annual net loss for the year that ended in March after writing off tax credits in the wake of Japan's earthquake and tsunami, the latest in a string of grim headlines on the consumer electronics giant.
The maker of PlayStation video games, Vaio computers and Bravia TVs has been battling to recover from the March 11 disaster, and more recently, a series of security breaches on its networks that affected more than 100 million user accounts.
The annual net loss would be Sony's second-largest ever, underscoring the decline of a company once a symbol of Japan's electronic and manufacturing excellence.
"I have been skeptical about Sony for a long time. Sony has been overtaken by Apple and other companies," said Yuuki Sakurai, CEO and president of Fukoku Capital Management in Tokyo. "The management is not able to show shareholders the future of the company."
Sony has found itself outmanoeuvred by Apple in portable music and Samsung Electronics in flat-screen TVs and is facing a tough fight in video games with Nintendo and Microsoft.
The firm, which previously forecast a net profit of 70 billion yen for 2010/11, surprised markets on Monday by declaring the need to update investors with revised estimates ahead of its official earnings report on Thursday.
Stock exchange rules in Tokyo require companies to notify investors if estimates for the business year are likely to be more than 30 percent higher or lower than their most recent forecast.
Sony said it now expected to post a net loss of 260 billion yen ($3.2 billion), due to a non-cash charge of around 360 billion yen related to Japanese tax credits.
Companies are allowed to carry forward tax losses for up to seven years if they can show future taxable profits are likely. But three consecutive years of net losses is considered evidence under U.S. accounting rules, the global standard, that those credits may not be available to it.
Sony said it expected sales to rise this year and forecast a return to net profit, without elaborating.
It earlier forecast was issued before the March 11 earthquake, which has tipped Japan's economy into recession and disrupted supply chains globally in a number of industries.
Although Sony revised its bottom line, it maintained that annual operating profit would still come in at 200 billion yen for 2010/11, which is broadly in line with consensus forecasts.
In its first estimate for the year to March 2012, Sony said its operating profit would also be around 200 billion yen.
Some investors saw the revisions as a way for Sony to put the slew of bad news behind it and start with something of a clean slate.
"Sony sharply revised down its net forecast to a big loss to show that the impact of the earthquake has been largely factored-in during the previous financial year, while the impact would be limited for the current year," said Mitsushige Akino, chief fund manager at Ichiyoshi Investment Management.
"Probably the company is expecting the global economy to recover during the second half of the year. Maybe this perception could be a bit optimistic, but we still have to wait and see."
Sony estimated the impact of the quake in the current year at 150 billion yen at the operating level.
Many of Sony's rivals, including Panasonic Corp, have yet to issue forecasts for the current year due to uncertainty following the disaster.
Sony last month disclosed that it had been a victim of one of the biggest cyber-attacks in history.
It shut down its PlayStation Network across the globe in mid-April and has slowly started to restore access, starting in the United States. The company is still working with Japanese government authorities to restore access in that country.
Sony said "known costs" for the hacking attacks were estimated at 14 billion yen. Sony is targeting the end of May for fully restoring the affected networks.
Last week, Sony Chief Executive Howard Stringer fired back at critics who say the company was too slow to notify consumers once the attack was known.
Shares in Sony ended down 0.5 percent in a Tokyo market down 1.5 percent. It shares though have fallen 24 percent so far this year, compared with a 7 percent fall in the Nikkei average.
(Additional reporting by Tim Kelly and Chikafumi Hodo; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Neil Fullick)