Sony eyeing spin-off plan from 'all sorts of angles'

TOKYO: The head of Sony told shareholders Thursday the company's board was studying from "all sorts of angles" a proposed plan to spin off part of its profitable entertainment arm but said it would not be rushed into a decision.


US billionaire 
Daniel Loeb, who says hishedge fund Third Point has amassed the largest stake in Sony, last month made the call to hive off and list up to 20 percent of the arm, which includes a music label and Hollywood movie studio. 

Sony CEO 
Kazuo Hirai told the firm's annual investor meeting in Tokyo: "This is a really important proposal not only for today's Sony but for the future of Sony. 

"The board will reach a decision by discussing and analysing Third Point's proposal from all sorts of angles... we want to take our time and get necessary information from outside," he told the meeting at a Tokyo hotel. 

Sony, which has reportedly sought out investment bankers to study the plan, had been largely tight-lipped after Loeb's initial foray was detailed in a hand-delivered letter to Hirai in mid-May. 

Loeb is not believed to have been at Thursday's meeting, which was packed with record attendance of nearly 11,000 shareholders. 

Loeb -- an outspoken investor with a reputation for pushing change at the companies he targets -- has suggested Hirai serve as head of the board of the new business, while retaining his spot at the helm of the overall group. 

The US investor argued that spinning off the entertainment division would make managers more accountable and help improve profitability. He also offered his service on Sony's board, pointing to his firm's large stake in the maker of Bravia televisions and 
PlayStationgame consoles. 

Analysts said Loeb's soft-touch approach appeared to mark a dramatic shift from previous, mostly unsuccessful, forays by foreign investors who have tried to push through change at Japanese firms.

Shareholder activism in Japan is not firmly entrenched like it is in Europe and the United States, and the country's cloistered corporate sector remains deeply suspicious of overseas private equity firms. 

Last month, 
Sony said it would continue "constructive dialogue with our shareholders as we pursue our strategy". But it added that the entertainment businesses were "not for sale". 

Hirai has resisted previous calls to break up the electronics giant, which has struggled for years as it bled money from its television unit and other consumer gadgets. 

On Thursday, Hirai appeared to soften the firm's position, but called the division "a very important business in order for us to realise Sony's growth strategy". 

The company has limped back to an annual profit after four years in the red, mostly due to the weak yen and selling a string of assets including Sony's Manhattan headquarters. 

Its Tokyo-listed shares were up 0.44 percent to 2,024 yen in morning trading on Thursday. The stock has more than doubled since the start of the year after dipping below 1,000 yen for the first time since the era of the Walkman.