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Moody’s Cuts Sony Bond Rating to ‘Junk’
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TOKYO—Moody’s Investors Service cut its credit rating on Sony Corp. by one notch to junk status in the latest setback for the Japanese tech giant as it grapples with sliding sales of its once-thriving consumer electronics products.
In its downgrade Monday, Moody’s painted a grim assessment of the lengthy road ahead for the turnaround of Japan’s most iconic tech brands, saying big cost cuts and new product launches have so far failed to fill the void left by eroding sales of television, personal computers and digital cameras.
“There are some very good products coming out,” Maki Hanatate, Moody’s senior credit officer, said, citing positive feedback on the Xperia smartphones and QX lens cameras.
“But it’s uncertain how long it can maintain its competitiveness with so many other rivals rolling out various products,” she added.
The lowering to Ba1 from Baa3 rating, or below investment grade, also comes as analysts widely expect Sony to lower its full-year profit guidance when it announces earnings on Feb. 6. Bank of America Merrill Lynch, for example, estimates Sony’s annual net profit at ¥17 billion compared with the company’s target of ¥30 billion ($290 million).
Analysts including Eiichi Katayama at Bank of America Merrill Lynch also expect Sony to announce fresh steps to stem losses at its electronics divisions, including a potential withdrawal from its struggling PC business.
Since taking over as Sony’s chief executive in April 2012, Kazuo Hirai has scaled back the volume of the company’s TV business and has shifted to buying cheaper panels, while focusing more on higher-end 4K models that generate higher margins. Still, its TV business has swung back into the red after briefly returning to profitability in the first quarter as demand slowed down in emerging markets. The company has also said it will rethink its PC strategy as losses continue to snowball.
Ms. Hanatate said fresh streamlining measures are unlikely to lift Sony’s earnings immediately, and there’s no compelling product in sight that can deliver sustainable profits for the company. Even strong sales of its new PlayStation 4 game console are unlikely to bring Sony back to its former glory, with the console industry in general suffering from a consumer shift to smartphones and tablets to play games, she added.
Credit analysts and traders, however, say they don’t expect major selloffs of Sony debt due to this downgrade since Moody’s has maintained a stable outlook. They added market attention is more focused on Sony’s third quarter earnings outcome and what kind of restructuring steps it may outline. The cut to junk status is also not the first for Sony, since Fitch Ratings had also lowered the credit rating of Sony to noninvestment back in 2012.
“We don’t expect any financing problems with this latest downgrade,” Sony Spokeswoman Yumi Takahashi said. Ms. Hanatate at Moody’s also said Sony is unlikely to face trouble in raising money due to its good relations with lenders