Take-Two Interactive Warns

Updated from 5:13 p.m. EST

Take-Two Interactive ( TTWO) warned investors and analysts to take down their earnings expectations on Monday, marking the third time the company has reduced its outlook in recent months.

The video game-software publisher slashed expectations for its fiscal year that ends Monday, for its coming first quarter and for its next fiscal year.

From the company's statement, it sounds like just about anything that could go wrong has recently for the developer of the hit Grand Theft Auto series. Take-Two blamed the warning on the delay in shipping a key title, disappointing sales and orders of other titles and worse-than-expected sales at its distribution unit.

"It is disappointing to reduce our financial guidance," said company CEO Paul Eibeler in a statement. "However, we remain optimistic about Take-Two's overall prospects and the favorable dynamics of our industry."

Color investors were somewhat pessimistic. After a 35-minute trading halt, Take-Two's shares were off $1.55, or 8%, in recent after-hours trading.

The company now expects to earn 53 cents to 56 cents a share in fiscal 2005 on sales of $1.18 billion to $1.185 billion. Analysts had predicted earnings of 86 cents a share on $1.25 billion in sales.

Last month, the company predicted earnings of 85 cents to 90 cents a share on sales ranging from $1.22 billion to $1.27 billion. But that outlook represented a reduction from the company's previous earnings and revenue estimates.

Looking forward, Take-Two now forecasts that its bottom line in its fiscal first quarter, which ends January 31, will range from break-even to a profit of 5 cents a share -- or, excluding stock-options costs, its earnings will range 4 cents to 10 cents a share on sales of $300 million to $350 million.

Previously, the company had predicted earnings of 10 cents to 15 cents a share -- 14 cents to 20 cents a share excluding the cost of stock options -- on sales ranging from $350 million to $400 million in the quarter. Analysts were expecting a profit of 18 cents a share, presumably sans options charges, on sales of $380.8 million.

For the full year, Take-Two is now predicting earnings of 95 cents to $1.20 a share -- $1.15 to $1.45 a share, excluding options costs -- on sales ranging from $1.35 billion to $1.45 billion. Analysts had predicted a profit of $1.35 a share on sales of $1.43 billion.

The company had previously predicted earnings of $1.05 a share to $1.30 a share -- $1.25 to $1.55 a share before options costs -- on sales of $1.4 billion to $1.5 billion.

In addition to reducing guidance last month and again Monday, Take-Two cut its third-quarter outlook in July after it pulled Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas from store shelves. The company's move came after the discovery of explicit sexual content hidden within the game and the decision by an industry rating board to change its rating on the title.

Shares of Take-Two closed regular trading up 68 cents, or 3%, to $20.65.

Several factors weighed into the company's decision to reduce its outlook for the just-completed year:

  • Take-Two delayed the European launch of Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, a version of its flagship title designed for Sony's (SNE) PlayStation Portable handheld system.

    Although the company recently launched the title in the U.S. and has begun shipping it to the U.K., delays in "final product testing and submission" have forced the company to hold off on selling it in the rest of Europe until the beginning of its next fiscal year.
  • Sales of some older titles were lower than expected, as were orders of new games. On a conference call with investors and analysts, company executives blamed the sales problems on retailers being cautious about the holiday season.
  • Sales at Jack of All Games, the company's distribution business, were worse than expected. Company said they had not previously anticipated the softness they saw in the unit's sales.
  • The cautious holiday outlook also weighed into the company's fiscal 2006 guidance, Take-Two executives said. Further, the company brought down estimates to reflect the uncertainty about hardware sales next year.

    The three major console makers each plan to launch new game boxes over the next year. Not only do hardware sales tend to spur software sales at companies such as Take-Two, but also Take-Two also could benefit through distributing the platform via Jack of All Games.

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