Activist investor Daniel Loeb said in an investor letter that he has sold his shares in Sony, months after his push for a partial spinoff of its entertainment units and improvement in its bottom line led to thousands of layoffs at its entertainment, TV and PC units. Despite Sony’s continued challenges after the layoffs and what Loeb called a need for more aggressive fixes, Loeb said he had realized a nearly 20 percent profit.
In his letter to investors, Loeb gave Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai credit for making needed changes in the TV and PC units, and improving operations at the film, TV and music units.
“Regrettably,” Loeb wrote, Hirai declined to create a tracking stock with shares covering a small portion of Sony’s entertainment units. Such an approach was seen by many observers as a potential first step to spinning off or selling the Sony Pictures Entertainment and Sony Music units, after establishing a separate market value for them.
Despite Hirai’s steps to improve Sony’s bottom line, Loeb wrote, “Still, they have a long way to go and we continue to believe that more urgency will be necessary to definitively turn around the company’s fortunes.”
Loeb bought into Sony in May of 2013, ultimately owning as much as 7 percent of the company’s stock. He pushed Sony management in a series of letters, even getting into a public squabble with George Clooney about the potential impacts of cuts on quality film and television.
Despite the changes, Sony’s stock has continued to underperform (one very bright spot has been its Playstation game unit), and has been one of the least productive in the Third Point portfolio. Nonetheless, Loeb wrote, Third Point will “generate a return of nearly 20 percent on this investment before exiting.”
Last week, Loeb’s Third Point LLC dropped out of the list of top 10 shareholders that Sony must disclose in quarterly regulatory filings. Today, in his quarterly letter to Third Point investors, Loeb said he has sold his stake in the company. In the lengthy letter, Loeb talked about the current market uncertainties that led him to change positions in Sony and a number of other companies, including online retailers eBay and Alibaba, and biotech giant Amgen. He also sounded a strong note of optimism in the middle of recent market volatility.
“Amidst this unwind, our analysis showed us that while some fear was warranted, some was exaggerated, and so we took steps to mitigate volatility and simultaneously take advantage of the market mayhem,” Loeb wrote. “Over the past week, after initially reducing our exposures, we realigned our portfolio by lifting hedges, taking on new positions, and re‐establishing investments in companies we had previously exited at much higher prices.”
Loeb and Third Point partnered with Penske Media Corp., the parent company of Deadline, to buy trade publication Variety about two years ago.