By Sam Nussey
TOKYO (Reuters) -Sony Group Corp on Thursday said it is examining a partial spin-off of its financial business just three years after taking full control, as the conglomerate doubles down on entertainment and image sensors.
Sony said it is considering a time frame of two to three years to spin off Sony Financial Group – whose operations include life insurance and banking – with an eye to listing the business and retaining a stake of slightly under 20%.
Given the capital the business requires, “it is a challenge to balance this with our investment in other growth areas such as entertainment and image sensors,” Sony Chief Financial Officer Hiroki Totoki told a strategy briefing.
The conglomerate is pursuing synergies between its business lines, which include video games, music and movies. It said hit drama “The Last of Us” on television network HBO drove uptake of the game franchise on which it is based and the music used.
A partial spin-off of Sony Financial, which the group said was made possible by changes in tax rules, would allow the newly listed business to retain Sony branding.
“It doesn’t change anything drastically in terms of the outlook for Sony but it does make it a more pure play entertainment company which the market generally likes,” said Mio Kato, an analyst at LightStream Research who publishes on Smartkarma.
The finance business reported a 5% fall in revenue to 1.45 trillion yen ($10.74 billion) in the year ended March. Operating profit rose 49% to 223.9 billion yen helped by a one-off gain from a real estate sale.
In the current financial year, Sony expects a 40% drop in revenue at the unit due to an accounting change, and a 20% drop in profit due to the absence of the year prior’s one-off gains.
Sony share price was up 6% in Tokyo trade, a day after the group said it would buy back up to 2.03% of its stock.
Sony has said it expects to sell 25 million PlayStation 5 consoles this financial year as supply chain snarls ease. That would be a record for any PlayStation device.
However it has also forecast a slide in first-party software sales, reflecting weakness in the games pipeline.
A sequel to Sony’s hit “Marvel’s Spider-Man” is among games due for release this year.
Rival Nintendo Co Ltd, whose Switch console has an install base of more than 125 million units, sold over 10 million copies of “The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom” during the first three days from launch.
It has also scored a monster hit with “The Super Mario Bros. Movie”.
Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida said he recently watched the movie in Tokyo and used to play “Super Mario” too.
“Loveable characters and intellectual property (IP) can live for 30, 50 or 100 years,” he said.
“That’s something we want to make investment in for sustainable growth,” Yoshida said.
($1 = 135.0500 yen)
(Reporting by Sam Nussey and Mariko Katsumura; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Christopher Cushing)