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Sony mulls battery unit sale in push toward core electronics

Sony Corp's President and Chief Executive Officer Kazuo Hirai speaks to reporters at CEATEC JAPAN 2012 electronics show in Chiba, east of To
Sony Corp's President and Chief Executive Officer Kazuo Hirai speaks to reporters at CEATEC JAPAN 2012 electronics show in Chiba, east of To

By Tim Kelly

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Sony Corp is considering the sale of its battery business but has made no decision yet, Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai said on Monday, as the company seeks to offload non-core assets and revive its consumer electronics business.

Hirai also told reporters on the sidelines of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that Christmas sales were "pretty much" in line with expectations, although sales of its handheld game console Vita were at the low end of its expectations. He gave no further details.

In November, Sony revised down its forecast for full-year sales of handheld PSP and Vita game consoles to 10 million units, compared with a prediction it made in August for 12 million.

Under Hirai, Sony is doubling down on consumer electronics - with a focus on mobile phones, tablets and gaming - while shedding non-core assets, as it seeks to regain ground against rivals like Samsung Electronics Co and bounce back from four straight years of net losses.

Sony and Japan's other big TV makers, Panasonic Corp and Sharp Corp, have also been hobbled by a strong yen that has squeezed margins, although the currency has weakened in recent months.

"The discussion (on selling units) extends to any business that aren't really adding to the core business," Hirai said.

He said Sony would keep units that would help it revive its television business, tap emerging markets and expand its medical devices segment.

Helped by sales of assets, Sony expects to eke out a net profit of 20 billion yen ($230 million) in the year ending March 31, after losing 457 billion yen ($5.2 billion) in the previous financial year.

The Japanese company in September sold its chemical business to a state-owned bank in Japan for $700 million.

Reuters reported in late November that Sony had been approached by at least three investment banks offering to sell its battery business.

At a news conference earlier, Hirai also said Sony would kick off sales of high-vision 4K versions of existing movie titles in the United States this spring and expand its offerings of TV models.

The 4K ultra-high definition versions offer four times the resolution of conventional high-definition images. Sony will also expand its line-up of ultra-high definition TVs with 55-inch and 65-inch screens in the spring, Hirai said.

Also at the CES show on Monday, the chief executive of South Korean flat-screen maker LG Display Co Ltd said the company was in talks with Japanese TV manufacturers to supply organic light emitting diode (OLED) panels.

Shares of Sony were down 1.4 percent on Tuesday afternoon in Tokyo, against a 1.1 percent drop in the benchmark Nikkei average. ($1 = 87.7300 Japanese yen)

(Writing by Dominic Lau; Editing by Chris Gallagher)

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