New Releases Help Video Game Investors Stay Upbeat

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Take-Two Interactive Software ( TTWO) is poised for bullish action after the video game publisher produces its fourth-quarter results and 2014 forecast Monday, driven by strong sales of new release Bioshock Infinite and excitement surrounding Grand Theft Auto V.

The company is expected to forecast fiscal 2014 earnings of $2.26 a share on revenue of $1.78 billion, above the current fiscal 2013 earnings estimate of 18 cents a share on revenue of $1.199 billion, according to a poll of analysts by Thomson Reuters..

Take-Two has risen more than 49% this year, despite NPD Group reporting last month that U.S. retail sales of video-game hardware, software and accessories declined 10% to $992.5 million in March from the prior year, hurt by the switching to mobile devices.

Take-Two appears positioned challenge this trend, with NPD also having reported that first-person shooter game, BioShock Infinite, topped the charts the month it was launched in March. Meanwhile, its latest series in the billion-dollar Grand Theft Auto franchise is expected to fuel solid sales and earnings growth in the years to come. Delay of this highly anticipated game featuring big heist scenes to Sept. 17 from spring 2013, closer to the holiday competition and ahead of new console releases, is not expected to damage sales.

"As the GTA V release nears, we continue to believe Take-Two's share price will increase in anticipation," Edward Woo, a senior research analyst for Ascendiant Capital Markets said in a client note. "We expect the company to have a strong fiscal-year 2014 led by GTA V."

The company should also get a boost from the extension of its license to make Major League Baseball games for another year and recent purchase of the World Wrestling Entertainment ( WWE) video game license from bankrupt THQ, off of which it plans to release a WWE game this holiday. Any advantage the company takes of the new console launches during the holiday shopping period should also contribute to its upside potential.

Rivals Electronic Arts ( EA) and Activision Blizzard ( ATVI) released their outlooks last week. Following the announcement, Electronic Arts is now up 55% this year and garners a consensus recommendation of "hold" among analysts. Activision has risen 41% year-to-date and has an "outperform" rating, on average, from Wall Street. EA and Activision Blizzard both posted revenue increases despite the pressures on the video game industry.

EA last week gave a higher-than-consensus fiscal 2014 outlook as it continues to grow digital revenue, expand its horizons through a multi-year agreement with entertainment behemoth Walt Disney ( DIS) to create new Star Wars video games for consoles, PCs, tablets, mobile and more, and announced unprecedented efforts to cut costs during a console transition period.

While these expense controls are raising concerns that EA is underinvesting in its future, that's been offset by excitement over the possibility of more multi-year hits with big projects such as Star Wars. The games are expected to become a gem in the company's franchise portfolio.

"The deal with Walt Disney basically hands EA a ready-made franchise, a non-stop cycle of Star Wars video games with next generation graphics and faster processors," said Carr Lanphier, an analyst at Morningstar in Chicago. With the huge following of 'Star Wars' fans around globe, it's got "serious market potential."

Activision Blizzard on the other hand was cautious about the back half calendar year 2013, concerned about further declines in its online adventure game World of Warcraft, which shed 1.3 million subscribers from January to March due to increasing competition from free-to-play games, and competitive title releases, and awaiting more clarity regarding the upcoming pipeline of new game consoles following lackluster Wii U console sales.

Still, the company's hit Skylander and Call of Duty franchises should remain reliable staples for Activision Blizzard during this time of uncertainty after helping the company drive sales up beyond management's own expectations in the first quarter. The expansion of these franchises could be a major driver of console sales in 2013. "Activision makes big bets with lasting franchises and doesn't succumb to jumping on the trend-of-the-day bandwagon," said Wanda Meloni, founder and senior analyst at M2 Research in San Diego.

For investors, the biggest uncertainty right now for game publishers is how well the next generation of gaming consoles will be received by gamers, as they can be a major driver of game sales. So far the Wii U, released in the fourth quarter of 2012, has been lackluster. The PlayStation 4 was revealed on Feb. 20 and is expected to hit stores during Christmas. The next generation Xbox is expected to be announced on May 21 and is rumored to be released some time in the last two months of the year. More details on the gaming pipeline will be revealed during the annual E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo taking place this year from June 11 to June 13 at the LA Convention Center.

Despite the uncertainties, game publishers continue to impress with revenue increases, leading to a bullish view on the group as a whole.

"Overall the video game industry has been sluggish with the lack of new game consoles launching," David Cole, an analyst with San Diego, Calif.-based DFC, commented. "However, the signs from consumers have been pretty positive as they continue to buy products without any major new hardware launches. We think stocks will go up over excitement over new hardware launches but the problem is of course people may quickly start to overvalue them."

"While the game industry is in a lull right now it won't be for long," according to Brian Blau, San Francisco, Bay Area-based research director of consumer technology and markets at Gartner. "Games, over the past 40 years, have done well and it's because game players constantly want new content and experiences, and we don't see that larger trend changing anytime soon."

Written by Andrea Tse in New York

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