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Sony Said in Talks With State-Run Fund to Sell Its Battery Unit

Sony Said in Talks With State-Run Fund to Sell Its Battery Unit
The Sony Corp. headquarters stands in Tokyo. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Sony Corp. is in talks to sell its battery business to Japan’s state-backed investment fund, said a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations.

Innovation Network Corp. of Japan hasn’t made an offer for the acquisition, said the person, who declined to be identified as the information isn’t public. Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., the world’s largest contract maker of electronics, has also shown interest in the buyout, the Nikkei newspaper reported Dec. 22.

Sony’s Chief Executive Officer Kazuo Hirai has said he would consider alliances for the battery unit as he seeks to refocus the manufacturer on mobile devices including smartphones after losses totaling $10 billion in the past four years. Sales of the company’s Bravia TVs, PlayStation game consoles, Handycam video recorders and Cyber-shot cameras may decline this year against competition from overseas rivals including South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co.

Lithium batteries, used in smartphones, personal computers, tablets and plug-in electric vehicles, account for the largest portion of the global market for rechargeable cells. The company’s market share in lithium batteries fell to 6.9 percent in the April-June period this year, from 15.4 percent in the first quarter 2008, according to Tokyo-based Techno Systems Research Co.

Battery Sales

Sony’s battery business had sales of about 142.5 billion yen ($1.7 billion) in the year ended March, Nikkei said in a report on the sale proposal. The unit had about 2,700 employees as of September, according to the report.

Hiroshi Okubo, a spokesman for Sony in Tokyo, declined to comment as the company has made no formal announcement. INCJ couldn’t be reached by phone outside regular business hours. Hon Hai is “looking for opportunities among Japanese businesses,” spokesman Simon Hsing said Dec. 22 by phone, declining to comment on the report of talks.

Shares of Tokyo-based Sony have fallen 34 percent this year, the sixth-worst performance on Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average, which has gained 18 percent. The company maintained its forecast for a 20 billion-yen profit this fiscal year as it unexpectedly posted a seventh straight quarterly loss last month.

Sony had its credit rating cut to junk status last month by Fitch Ratings, which said slumping demand for televisions, the strong Japanese currency and weakened economic conditions at home and overseas will leave the electronics maker struggling to regain technological leadership.

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