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The Playstation 4 is a Bright Spot for Stumbling Sony

Sony Playstation 4

For shareholders of Sony, the company’s most recent earnings report was likely the small piece of good news they had long waited for. Buoyed by strong sales of the Playstation 4, the much leaner Sony — which had recently shed its PC business, shares in Square Enix and spun off its TV business into a separate subsidiary — posted a profit for the first quarter of its fiscal year spanning from April to June 30.

In a conference call with investors and subsequent earnings release, Sony announced it had sold a combined total of 3.5 million PS3 and PS4 units in the quarter. While Sony has not released specific sales number for the PS4 specifically, using a 70-30 baseline that’s generally accepted amongst analysts the numbers show that Sony sold 2.5 million PS4s.

In comparison, Microsoft has reported during its earning calls that it had shipped 1.1 million Xbox 360 and Xbox One units during the last quarter. Microsoft uses the shipped, not sold, metric which means that these units have left Microsoft and entered the channel for warehouses and retailers’ shelves. While Microsoft, like Sony, does not release specific quarterly figures for the Xbox One (the only data released was the “over 3 million” number reported at the end of 2013 compared to Sony’s 7 million)  if the same 70-30 metric is applied, this means that Microsoft has shipped 800,000 Xbox One units.

Sony also reported it sold 750,000 PlayStation Vita and PlayStation Portable handheld consoles combined.

As a whole, Sony’s Game and Network division brought the company an operating income of $43 million on revenue of $2.5 billion. During the same quarter last year, the division posted a loss of $164 million.

But some of Sony’s divisions aren’t doing as well as the Game division. The company’s smartphone division, which was Sony’s most profitable electronics division last year, posted an operating loss amid collapsing sales. The division posted a loss of $27 million on revenue of $3.2 billion.Sony reports that it expects to sell 43 million smartphones this year, down from a previous forecast of 50 million.

Overall Sony posted an operating profit of $679 million and a net profit of $261 million on sales of $17.92 billion. Compared to the same time last year, the company posted operating profit of approximately $345.8 million and a net profit of just $30 million. Revenue also increased year-over-year by 5.8%.

Analysts painted a much more pessimistic view of the company, with an average estimate of $161.7 million in operating profit according to a poll conducted by Thomson Reuters Starmine.

What’s a Japanese giant to do?

Sony’s gradual decline in the consumer electronics market is modeled on the overall decline of Japan on the world’s industrial stage. While Sony, and other Japanese giants like Panasonic and Sharp, once enjoyed distinction as the pinnacle providers of high-quality electronics, as Korea and China industrialized Sony met some tough competition from the likes of Samsung, LG and now global Chinese brands such as Skyworth, Xiaomi, Hisense, and TCL.

These figures show that the only reliable source of profit for Sony is its games division, a market split into a triopoly where it enjoys a comfortable lead against Microsoft and Nintendo in the next-generation console market. Sony’s mobile division, not long ago heralded as a saviour of a sagging company, has proven to be an unreliable source of profits as the market is crowded and competition is intense.

But Sony has to find something else to rely on. It’s two most profitable divisions — Games and Movies — are highly trend based and Sony’s dominance and profitability in those markets could be usurped by a Xbox or Nintendo comeback, or a series of box-office bombs. It’s unclear exactly what this might be, but Sony has to act decisively in order to sustain quarter-over-quarter profits and loose the negative perception some members of the finance community have given it.