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Delay Won't Zap Sony

Of course, such a delay isn't even guaranteed. Sony hasn't given much detail about its plans, but at this point, the company is sticking by its previous forecast that the PlayStation 3 will come out this spring.

One buy-side analyst who follows the sector says his sources are telling him that there won't be any delay. We've heard this talk before, the analyst says. Before Microsoft launched the Xbox 360 last fall, rumors abounded that it would be postponed, but it launched on time.

"I don't think anyone knows," says the analyst, who asked not to be named and whose firm doesn't have any sector positions. The PlayStation 3 "might actually be delayed, but you should take the rumors with several grains of salt."

But even if there is a delay, does it really matter that much? As long as the console is launched this year, it would still be on the shelves for the holiday season, when the lion's share of game hardware and software purchases are made. This means a slight delay wouldn't result in significant lost sales, especially with Microsoft still struggling with supply issues of its own with the Xbox 360.

And in Japan at least, the Xbox 360 has sold poorly so far and may not pose much of a threat to the PlayStation 3, no matter how long Sony waits. "Since Xbox 360 is possibly the worst-performing console in Japan ever, it's not like Sony needs to hurry," says Joe Spiegel, a hedge fund manager at Dalek Capital. He doesn't have a stake in either Sony or Microsoft.

Software sales are largely tied to hardware sales. Even before the Merrill Lynch report, many in the industry had relatively modest expectations for sales of the PlayStation 3 this year. Extrapolating from that, sales expectations this year for games to be played on the PlayStation 3 were likely low to begin with and probably won't be hurt much by a delay.

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