Exclusive: Loeb’s Third Point building stake to pressure Sony – sources

(Reuters) – Daniel Loeb’s hedge fund Third Point LLC is building a stake in Sony Corp to push for changes that include shedding some businesses, the second time in six years it has targeted the Japanese electronics maker, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Daniel S. Loeb, founder of Third Point LLC, participates in a panel discussion during the Skybridge Alternatives (SALT) Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada May 9, 2012. REUTERS/Steve Marcus/File Photo

Once a market leader in consumer electronics, Sony is now in the midst of a turnaround effort spearheaded by Kenichiro Yoshida, its chief executive who formerly served at its chief financial officer.

The maker of the iconic Walkman and Trinitron TV fell behind the likes of Apple Inc in innovation after the release of the iPod in 2001 and the iPhone in 2007. Sony over the past decade has reinvented itself as an entertainment company with stable revenue from music content and its video game platform.

Investors are now searching for its next source of growth as Sony’s gaming business shows signs of slowing, with its popular PlayStation 4 console nearing the end of its cycle.

Third Point’s amassed stake in Sony thus far could not be learned. The hedge fund, which has about $14.5 billion in assets under management, is raising a dedicated investment vehicle, targeting between $500 million and $1 billion in capital, so it can buy more Sony shares, the sources said.

Third Point wants Sony to explore options for some of its business units, including its movie studio, which the hedge fund believes has attracted takeover interest from the likes of Amazon.com Inc and Netflix Inc, the sources said. The hedge fund also wants clarity on how Sony’s semiconductor and insurance divisions fit in with the rest of the company, the sources added.

The sources asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential. Sony and Third Point declined to comment.

U.S.-listed shares of Sony rose 8.3 percent after the Reuters report to close at $46.65. The company, whose main stock market listing is in Tokyo, has a market value of 6.1 trillion yen ($55 billion).

Sony reported lower-than-expected profit in February, dragged down by its previously thriving gaming business, even as a one-off gain related to its acquisition of music publisher EMI pushed the quarterly result to a record high.

Third Point last exited a stake in Sony in 2014 with a roughly 20 percent gain after spending a year and a half pushing for Sony to spin off its entertainment division, writing in a letter to investors that the division remained “poorly managed.”

Some Hollywood actors and producers rallied behind Sony at the time, with actor and producer George Clooney calling Loeb “a hedge fund guy who describes himself as an activist but who knows nothing about our business.”

Later Loeb changed his tune, praising the company for cutting costs at the entertainment division and having made management changes.

CINEMA HITS

Sony has already sold off its ailing personal computer division and streamlined its television and smartphone businesses. In taking aim at Sony’s commitment to the entertainment business, however, Third Point may be facing an uphill struggle.

Yoshida has said he sees synergies between the film business and its PlayStation platform, and he has been emboldened by Sony’s cinema hits such as ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,’ and ‘Venom’.

Consolidation in the sector has been intensifying amid pressure from online streaming services offered by companies like Netflix and Amazon, and with Walt Disney Co completing its $71.3 billion acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox Inc’s entertainment assets from Rupert Murdoch’s media empire last month.

Loeb is no stranger to challenging companies with long odds of success. Last year, he sought to oust the entire board of Campbell Soup Co, despite the founding family’s members controlling much of the U.S. food company. He ended up settling for two board seats.

This is the second time Third Point is looking to increase its firepower by raising a special purpose vehicle. In 2017, it raised $750 million that way to build a stake in Nestle SA.

Sony last month said its chairman Kazuo Hirai, who helped engineer the company’s recent revival, would retire in June.

Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss in Boston and Liana B. Baker in New York; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli

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