Sony Reaches Out To Morgan Stanley, Citigroup to Assess Loeb Spin-Off Proposal

Michael Teague  |

Only two weeks ago, billionaire hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb of Third Point LLC was in Japan, in an apparent bid to win support for a plan for Sony (SNE) to spin off its entertainment business into a separate entity.

Upon returning to the U.S., Loeb sent a letter to Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai that made a rather aggressive case for the spin-off plan, but the latter had initially appeared firmly opposed to the suggestion.

Now, however, Sony seems to be warming up to the idea, with reports late on Thursday that the company has reached out to Morgan Stanley (MS) and Citigroup (C) for help in assessing the possibilities of such a scenario.

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Third Point currently holds more than a 6 percent stake in Sony, at a value of $1.1 billion, making it the company’s largest shareholder. Loeb maintains that Sony’s lucrative entertainment operations that make up a significant portion of the company’s overall enterprise value, and include television and film production, publishing, international cable, and music, could raise more money were they not tied up with the underperforming electronics business.

Despite the initial reticence, Hirai who spoke at the All Things D conference in Rancho Palos Verdes on Thursday, saying that the proposal needed to be discussed at the board-level. Hirai also spoke of his desire to revive Sony electronics, citing the new Xperia Z phone, and the forthcoming Playstation 4, but later in a CNBC interview said that success in the company’s entertainment division is the top priority.

After the Loeb’s letter to Hirai was made available to the public on May 14th, Sony’s shares jumped over 10 percent to around $22. The company has indeed suffered in electronics, having long been surpassed by competitors better able to operate in the ever-important mobile market such as Samsung and Apple (AAPL). Meanwhile, Sony Entertainment has done exceedingly well, suggesting that Loeb’s proposal has a great deal of merit.

Neither Sony, Morgan Stanley, or Citigroup confirmed the news when asked for comment. Shares for Sony have advanced over 26 percent during the last month to their current price of $20.84.

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