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Sony’s stock is swooning amid worries its portfolio ‘is in trouble’

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A woman plays ASTRO BOT Rescue Mission at a Playstation VR display at the Sony Exhibit at the Las Vegas Convention Center during CES 2019 in Las Vegas on January 9, 2019.

David McNew | AFP | Getty Images

A woman plays ASTRO BOT Rescue Mission at a Playstation VR display at the Sony Exhibit at the Las Vegas Convention Center during CES 2019 in Las Vegas on January 9, 2019.

Investors are running for cover after Sony delivered its latest results and guidance: Shares in the Japanese tech giant tumbled 8 percent in Monday trade.

Underlying that one-day move is a concern that the company’s portfolio “is in trouble,” according to one analyst.

The company is in “highly competitive areas with declining unit sales and margin,” Ray Wang, principal analyst and founder at Silicon Valley-based Constellation Research, told CNBC over email.

“They have a bad hand and need to change … their portfolio,” Wang said.

Wang’s comments came on the back of Sony cutting its sales and operating revenue forecast for the fiscal year. In particular, investors are closely watching the firm’s gaming business. That division is the largest contributor to the company’s operating income, comprising more than 30 percent in the first three quarters of Sony’s fiscal year.

The company sold 8.1 million units of its flagship PlayStation 4 (PS4) gaming console in the third quarter, according to its earnings release. That was lower than the same quarter of the previous fiscal year, but “in-line with (the company’s) expectations for this sixth year of the platform,” Sony Chief Financial Officer Hiroki Totoki said at a Friday earnings briefing.

Slowing sales of PS4 hardware and a negative impact from foreign exchange rates outweighed an increase in game software sales to drag down the segment’s operating income as compared to the previous year, according to Totoki.

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Unilever first-quarter sales top expectations

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Rival Nestle also reported better-than-expected first-quarter sales on Thursday.

Following its first quarter under new chief executive Alan Jope, Anglo-Dutch Unilever also stood by its 2020 target for an underlying operating margin of 20 percent, set by Jope’s predecessor Paul Polman in the wake of 2017’s rebuffed $143 billion takeover offer by Kraft Heinz.

Unilever’s underlying operating margin was 18.4 percent in 2018.

In the first quarter, Unilever’s underlying sales, stripping out acquisitions, disposals and currency moves, rose 3.1 percent. Analysts on average were expecting a 2.8 percent rise, according to a company-supplied consensus forecast.

Growth was balanced, with a 1.9 percent contribution from pricing, which is less than analysts expected, and 1.2 percent from volume gains, which is more than expected.

Chief Financial Officer Graeme Pitkethly told Reuters that many of the price increases were taken in emerging markets, where it is often easier to hold onto sales volume despite price increases.

Turnover fell 1.6 percent to 12.4 billion euros, due to the disposal of the spreads business.

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Samsung shares tumble amid concerns about Galaxy Fold breaking

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Apple and Qualcomm settled a longstanding legal dispute over royalties earlier this week, with the settlement including a payment from Apple to Qualcomm as well as a chipset supply agreement, suggesting that the Cupertino-based tech giant will buy Qualcomm’s chips for future iPhones.

Analysts had previously said that the dispute between Qualcomm and Apple could slow down Apple’s plans to support next-generation 5G networks, with the former being one of the top suppliers of chips that can connect to 5G networks. The agreement opens up the possibility that Apple could release a 5G iPhone sooner than expected with Qualcomm’s modem technology.

At present, however, Samsung’s Galaxy S10 and Fold devices are “leading” the way among phones with 5G potential, according to Yoo.

“If there is any chance of demand slowdown due to quality control, this will have quite significant negative impact on the IT sector as a whole,” Yoo said, noting that demand for chips in the first half of 2019 was already weak.

For its part, Samsung said in a statement that it was looking into the reports of broken Galaxy Folds:

A limited number of early Galaxy Fold samples were provided to media for review. We have received a few reports regarding the main display on the samples provided. We will thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter.

Separately, a few reviewers reported having removed the top layer of the display causing damage to the screen. The main display on the Galaxy Fold features a top protective layer, which is part of the display structure designed to protect the screen from unintended scratches. Removing the protective layer or adding adhesives to the main display may cause damage. We will ensure this information is clearly delivered to our customers.

Commenting on the reports about the Galaxy Fold breaking, Yoo said they appeared “over-stretched.”

The current concerns and correction will be “limited in the short term,” with the issues faced by the device likely to be solved before its launch, he said.

— CNBC’s Todd Haselton, David Faber and Kif Leswing contributed to this report.

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Amazon is shutting down its China marketplace business

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Amazon entered the Chinese market in 2004 through the acquisition of Joyo, a domestic online shopping market. Joyo was rebranded to Amazon China in 2011. It enjoyed success in the early days with market share of over 15 percent in 2011 to 2012, according to China-based analyst Choi Chun of iResearch. That has now plummeted to less than 1 percent, according to another China-based market research firm, Analysys.

As Liao mentioned, Amazon had a reputation in the early days of its China operation for being a site that would have legitimate products and so was trusted by Chinese consumers. Chinese players like Alibaba struggled with policing fake items on their sites. Chinese e-commerce players, however, have been taking proactive measures to fight counterfeit goods.

Not only is Amazon trying to compete with e-commerce giants like JD and Alibaba, who are often able to deliver goods to Chinese customers faster, but smaller domestic like Pinduoduo and VIP.com are also offering a challenge.

The U.S. giant has also not been as aggressive on the marketing front as some of its rivals. Alibaba and JD both do huge sales promotions and big advertising campaigns on Nov.11 each year, known in China as Singles Day.

Amazon said in its statement that it is emphasizing cross-border trade. While that may have been a unique part of the business in the past, China’s domestic players have put a big focus on that in recent years. In November, Alibaba announced plans to help global businesses sell $200 billion in goods to China in the next five years. However, analysts said Amazon can still compete for now.

“JD and Alibaba are better positioned because they have larger traffic and consumers trust these two platforms (relatively to other platforms). But one thing I need to point out is that cross-border e-commerce in China is not as consolidated as regular domestic e-commerce, online shoppers go to different platforms for different overseas merchandises,” Chun told CNBC. “Therefore, Amazon’s cross border e-commerce is still very competitive.”

Chun said Amazon’s cross-border business is “not insignificant,” but the U.S. firm “doesn’t realize their problem in the Chinese operation and doesn’t want to catch up.”

“I don’t rule out the possibility that Amazon’s cross-border business will follow the same path of Amazon’s China domestic e-commerce business,” Chun said.

In its statement Amazon said its “commitment to China remains strong.”

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