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As Sony delivers, investors renew their faith

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A cyberattack forced Sony to postpone its official earnings results in January, but the wait was worth the while, analysts say, as above-view preliminary results released overnight reaffirm their faith in the Japanese electronics giant.

"It's a once in a decade turnaround," Jefferies senior analyst Atul Goyal told CNBC. "[Sony] has changed and is focusing on profitable businesses " such as consoles, content and image sensors.

Preliminary results released Wednesday show Sony's operating profit doubled to 178.3 billion yen ($1.52 billion) in the October-December quarter, well above estimates of 96.6 billion yen in a Reuters poll. Sales rose 6 percent to 2.56 trillion yen, above consensus estimates of 2.38 trillion yen.

"Every single business unit was profitable – no losses in continuing operations anywhere in the company for the first time in a long while," Japan Executive Newsletter (JEN) Senior Editor Jay Nelson told CNBC.

Sony also announced an improved outlook for the full year ending in March, forecasting a net loss of 170 billion yen, up from its previous projection for a 230 billion yen loss.

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Trouble with its computer network following a cyberattack on its movie business prevented Sony from providing finalized numbers for the quarter. Final results will be published in March.

Sony's stock traded limit up Thursday, rising over 16 percent as investors cheered the results.

Restructuring paying off

"The on-going restructuring that Chief Financial Officer Kenichiro Yoshida is pursuing" underlies the turnaround, said Jefferies' Goyal.

Even the problem child TV business is turning the corner: TVs turned an operating profit of 9.3 billion yen, reversing from a loss of 5 billion in the same period last year, "primarily due to cost reductions," according to the company's statement.

"The television business… had three straight quarters of positive operating profit; we haven't seen that in nearly a decade. It's going to be in the black this year and won't be a problem going forward," said JEN's Jay Nelson.

As for what's next, some analysts see a shift away from hardware.

"In five years, the company will become a content provider - there will be very little hardware," Jefferies' Goyal said.

Sony Chief Executive Officer Kazuo Hirai is due to announce a new strategy on February 18.

Surviving the hack

In December, a group of hackers launched a devastating attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment's computer system, allegedly in retaliation for "The Interview" – a comedy film about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

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While the cyberattack resulted in a data breach, the hit on the business appears to have been minimal: "I don't see how the hack affects them at all, except on a reputational basis," reckoned JEN's Nelson.

"The Interview" only grossed $6.1 million at the cinemas after Sony delayed the initial theatrical release, but "streaming and on-demand download revenues appear to have topped $400 million by January 20," said Nomura consumer electronics analyst Yu Okazaki in a note.