Sony Ericsson posts first-quarter loss

Mobile phone maker also announces plan to cut jobs

Mobile phone maker Sony Ericsson said Friday that it plans to cut one in five jobs this year in its battle to return to profit as a sluggish market brought a hefty first-quarter loss, as expected.

The world No. 4 handset manufacturer, owned by Sweden's Ericsson and Japan's Sony Corp., plans to slash 2,000 jobs this year after shedding a similar number in 2008.

The company shed a quarter of its market share to 6% year-on-year but said it saw signs of a stabilization in demand, echoing comments made by top cell phone maker Nokia a day earlier.

"In March there were signs of stabilization ... in the U.S. and in Europe," CEO Hideki Komiyama said. "Still, in some areas we still have weakness, in Eastern Europe, in Russia, the Middle East and India, but some other areas have clearly started seeing some signs of correction."

The company's pretax loss of €370 million ($485 million) -- against analysts' forecasts of €371 million -- came a day after Nokia reported its first-ever quarterly loss.

Sony Ericsson's success has been built on a strong offering of midrange phones with high-quality cameras and music players, but this market segment has seen a sharp fall in demand as operators have doled out subsidies to more expensive phones.

"Imaging and music are now part of most of the competitors' portfolios and Sony Ericsson is finding it more and more difficult to have its products stand out," Gartner Research director Carolina Milanesi said.

Because of the economic downturn consumers are increasingly selective about their mobile phone purchases and upgrades.

"Touchscreens, good Web browsing, and navigation are moving up the wish list," Milanesi said.

Sony Ericsson lacks strength in these areas.

The cell phone industry has entered the toughest year in its history as consumers rein in spending, with the market set to fall 10% or more this year, and retailers try to clear inventories of unsold phones after bleak holiday sales.

Komiyama said the company targeted to cut a further €400 million ($522.35 million) in annual operating expenses by mid-2010, taking on additional €200 million ($261.18 million) in restructuring charges.

Sony Ericsson, the fourth-biggest global handset maker after Nokia, Samsung and LG, had flagged its steep first-quarter loss in a profit warning last month, and warned of a collapse in unit sales. It sold 14.5 million phones in the first quarter, down from 24.2 million in the fourth, and saw its market share slip by two percentage points to 6% compared with the same quarter last year.