Take-Two Interactive (Nasdaq: TTWO ) is making promises that it may be hoping it won't have to keep.
The cutting-edge video game publisher behind the Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption franchises came through with softer-than-expected fiscal first-quarter results last night. Its outlook for the current quarter falls abysmally short of the pros' projections.
However, Take-Two is still putting out surprisingly rosy projections for all of fiscal 2012 and promising a blowout fiscal 2013. Does Take-Two really see the light at the end of the tunnel, or is it hoping to lure Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS ) or Activision Blizzard (Nasdaq: ATVI ) into a buyout?
Let's get into the ugly numbers first. Revenue fell 11% to $334.4 million, as the poorly received Duke Nukem Forever weighed down Take-Two's critically acclaimed L.A. Noire release. Margins got slaughtered, with last year's adjusted profit of $0.43 a share being whittled down to a mere $0.02 a share. Analysts were banking on a tweaked profit of $0.10 a share, on $352.9 million in revenue.
If you think that's bad, the current quarter will be even worse. Take-Two is targeting an adjusted loss of $0.55 to $0.65 a share on $70 million to $85 million in revenue. Wall Street's estimates call for a loss of $0.05 a share on $203 million in revenue.
These things happen in the video game industry. Revenue recognition practices and juggled release dates lead to lumpy performances from quarter to quarter. However, it seems odd that Take-Two is sticking to the guidance it initiated for all of fiscal 2012 three months ago. Take-Two still sees itself earning between $0.10 a share and $0.35 a share on $1 billion to $1.1 billion, for the current fiscal year ending next March. The company also believes it will earn more than $2 a share next fiscal year.
In an ideal world, Take-Two woul dbe telling the truth. Outside of releasing L.A. Noire for the PC and cranking out a licensed baseball game using Viacom's (NYSE: VIA ) Nickelodeon characters, its release slate for the current quarter relies largely on low-profile digital releases. NBA 2K12 and other potential needle-movers won't be out until the second half of the fiscal year. Investors should already be looking forward to new installments in the BioShock and Borderlands franchises slated for fiscal 2013.
However, plans could get hairy if the NBA lockout continues, or if the company's sequels fall flat the way Duke Nukem Forever did this summer.
If Take-Two were ever looking for an exit strategy, now would be the ideal time to approach rival gamers -- or any media company looking for some skin in gaming -- to field offers. Its projections just don't seem realistic, and it may be time for Take-Two to use its potent franchises as intellectual capital while that's still worth something.
Take-Two is now three years removed from rebuffing EA's buyout offer. In retrospect, holding out for more was ill-advised. Let's see if the company can get it right this time -- hopefully before it has to answer to its unbelievably cheery forecasts a year or two from now.
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