Activist investor Daniel Loeb’s hedge fund Third Point, after buzzing around Sony for years, urged the conglomerate to continue selling off non-strategic assets, insisting that the media and entertainment businesses can “stand alone.”
Loeb also commended Sony for strong returns in 2019 but said in a letter to investors his firm needs to take a hard look at its portfolio.
Sony shares, which closed at $71.80 Thursday, are up more than 70% from their 52-week low, a stellar performance.
“Sony has avoided the topic of portfolio optimization, but we continue to believe that Sony’s media and semiconductors franchises can stand alone and create more value independently than together,” the firm wrote.
But he spent most of the letter praising the company.
“We invested in Sony in Q1 2019 when shares traded down on market fears that cloud gaming posed a substantial threat to the company’s PlayStation franchise and overall gaming business. While the market saw only risks, we saw an incredible collection of media assets: the world’s largest video game platform, a top-three music label, and a top-five Hollywood film studio. Hidden behind the media empire was an underappreciated, best-in-class semiconductor business,” he said.
“We also saw a capable management team open to improving
shareholder value and willing to listen to our suggestions about how the company could reach its full potential. As is often the case with conglomerates, concerns over a single business impaired total value, giving us the opportunity to purchase shares at a large discount to our view of intrinsic valuation. The rest of 2019 proved excellent for Sony. Fears around cloud gaming were overblown.”
“While business performance has been stellar, we believe true value maximization at Sony is only beginning. Out of Sony’s four major non-core publicly listed stakes, the company has divested only one of its smallest, Olympus. Sony has yet to outline a clear strategy for its remaining ~$14 billion in public stakes, largely concentrated between Sony Financial and M3, but has indicated that it will do so.”
Loeb’s firm first took a big 6% stake in Sony in 2013 and urged it to take Sony Entertainment public in a partial spinoff, along with other recommendations. He has ramped up pressure periodically, most lately last summer when he renewed calls for a breakup, this time of its semiconductor business, a suggestion Sony rejected. The company has always maintained that its businesses are complementary.