SEC Takes on Take-Two

Take-Two Interactive (Nasdaq: TTWO  ) should be a happy camper right now. By rights, it should be looking forward to the fall release of its fourth Grand Theft Auto title on both Sony's (Nasdaq: SNE  ) PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Xbox 360. Instead, it continues to be haunted by an ongoing options scandal.

The latest news on this front comes via action on the SEC's part. According to a Reuters article, Take-Two's options practices are being formally investigated by regulators. The SEC wants to examine options-backdating data to see how bad the problem was at the publisher. Witnesses can now be called up to testify about exactly what went on and when.

That's the last thing Take-Two needs right now. Erstwhile CEO Ryan A. Brant was convicted in February over backdating issues -- reportedly the first such executive to suffer such a fate. Activist investors, leveraging their nearly 50% ownership of the company, recently took the initiative to get rid of CEO Paul Eibeler and put into place a new board. The new chairman, Strauss Zelnick, and acting CEO Ben Feder, were ready to aggressively clean up the publisher's act and move forward with a plan for emphasizing shareholder value over shenanigans.

Now they'll have to deal with the complication of the probe. The investigation constitutes a significantly negative overhang on the company's stock. Indeed, shareholders right now are probably reticent about checking news feeds over the next several months; if I were invested in Take-Two right now, I know I'd be worried over what nefarious past activities might be lurking around the corner.

Thank goodness I'm not playing the video game zeitgeist with this company; I favor instead the big three in this arena -- Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS  ) , THQ (Nasdaq: THQI  ) , and Activision (Nasdaq: ATVI  ) . I happen to own Activision, but I think you can own any one of these three (or more than one). Take-Two, in my opinion, isn't the best idea out there, mainly because I like the franchises of the other three -- as I stated in a previous article on Take-Two's options debacle, the company's current corporate troubles won't necessarily bring it down. As bad as Take-Two's troubles are -- and yes, they are bad -- I think the company will eventually sail past these stormy waters due to the stewardship of the new management. Presumably, they will want to deal with this in a cooperative fashion, figure out how to avoid it in the future, and get back to concentrating on expanding Take-Two's portfolio beyond Grand Theft Auto.

Take-Two's shares will probably experience a lot of volatility in the coming months. It will be instructive to hear what the new bosses say in terms of strategies going forward; shareholders will want to know exactly how the publisher plans to ride the video game wave besides the carjacking titles, and how it plans on improving earnings results. In the meantime, Wall Street will have to wait and see how Take-Two fares while it is under investigation.   

Take a few more Takes on Take-Two:

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Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns shares of Activision. As of this writing, he was ranked 11,580 out of 25,583 investors in the CAPS system. Don't know what CAPS is? Check it out. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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