Take-Two Interactive's Chairman Resigns

Updated from 12:46 p.m. EST

Wall Street cheered Tuesday as Take-Two Interactive's ( TTWO) chairman quit the post amid the prospect of civil charges.

Shares of Take-Two climbed as high as $34.85 intraday and were recently up $1.51, or 4.7%, to $33.51.

The New York-based maker of the blockbuster video game series Grand Theft Auto announced that founder Ryan Brant has resigned as chairman and director but will remain at the company as vice president of publishing. The company's board named Richard W. Roedel, a director and chairman of the board's audit committee since November 2002, to be its non-executive chairman.

Roedel, a certified public accountant, spent much of his career with the international accounting and consulting firm BDO Seidman, where he most recently served as chairman and CEO. But under his watch as audit committee chairman at Take-Two, the company has had to restate its results. A Securities and Exchange Commission investigation of Take-Two's accounting practices, however, goes back two years, predating Roedel's arrival.

Meanwhile, Brant, an unidentified current employee, two former officers and the company have received Wells notices from the SEC, which means the agency is considering filing a civil action against them.

"I believe this is the right time to make a management transition to position Take-Two for the future," Brant said in a press release.

Brant has received hefty pay packages totaling more than $6 million in the past couple years, prompting (among others) Banc of America securities analyst Gary Cooper to call for his resignation as chairman.

Cooper raised his rating on Take-Two to buy from neutral in response to Brant's resignation. "With the resignation of chairman Ryan Brant, who had been the one constant through Take-Two's years of accounting struggles and uneven operational performance, we believe that Take-Two will be in an improved position to leverage its IP and solid balance sheet," he wrote in a note Tuesday. "We consider more operational control in the hands of CEO Jeff Lapin to be a significant positive for the company."

Cooper said other drivers for Take-Two in 2004 include console price cuts and the release of the next Grand Theft Auto installment, called GTA: San Andreas. Risks include over-reliance on the GTA series, potential poor performance from other upcoming releases Brant's strong ties to the management of Rockstar Studios, Take-Two's most important internal game developer, Cooper wrote. (Cooper's firm has received compensation for investment banking for Take-Two in the past year.)

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