Hackers hit Sony websites in 3 countries

TOKYO Tue May 24, 2011 3:57pm IST

A man walks past a Sony logo in front of an electronic shop in Tokyo May 3, 2011. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Files

A man walks past a Sony logo in front of an electronic shop in Tokyo May 3, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Files

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Sony Corp's shares bounced 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.

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 upgrade its rating on the stock to outperform from neutral. Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse and UBS reiterated their overweight, buy or outperform ratings.

Separately, Sony said on Tuesday websites in three countries were hacked and personal information for 8,500 people were leaked from its Greek Sony Music Entertainment website, in the latest of a series of security breaches.

The company said all three sites had been taken down and that no credit card information had been registered.

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 . Sony's shares dipped nearly 1 percent in early trade, to its lowest since the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.

Analysts said Sony had provided markets with a realistic view of the impact of the quake and a PlayStation network hacking incident, 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 capitalisation 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 of tax credits following Japan's earthquake and tsunami.

Many of Sony's rivals, including Panasonic Corp, 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 -- 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.

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 has been largely squeezed out of the portable music market by Apple Inc's iPod, while losing market share to Samsung Electronics in flat-screen TVs.

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 Isabel Reynolds; Editing by Edmund Klamann and Anshuman Daga)

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