Take-Two: Smarter Than You

Now we know why Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS  ) was so quick to go public with its unsolicited buyout offers for Take-Two Interactive (Nasdaq: TTWO  ) : It wanted to steal the rival video game maker before anyone could witness the crime.

Take-Two came through with better-than-expected fiscal first-quarter results last night -- easily topping both its initial guidance and Wall Street's targets -- and raised its outlook for all of fiscal 2008 ahead of next month's release of Grand Theft Auto IV.

Revenue fell by 13% to $240.4 million, but analysts were looking for a 24% top-line plunge. The market clearly underestimated the power of recent Take-Two hits such as BioShock (with more than 2 million units sold worldwide) and Carnival Games (moving a million copies for Nintendo's Wii).

The quarterly loss widened to $0.52 a share, or $0.42 a share once you back out stock-based compensation and reorganization expenses. On that adjusted basis, Wall Street was looking for a $0.51-a-share deficit.

I guess you can't blame analysts, since they were simply sticking close to the company's guidance, which had targeted an adjusted loss of $0.50 a share to $0.60 a share on no more than $225 million in revenue for the period.

Take-Two's upped outlook now calls for the company to earn $1.35 a share to $1.55 a share in adjusted profits, on $1.25 billion to $1.4 billion in revenue.

The new numbers make one think that Electronic Arts was trying to perpetrate highway robbery by offering to buy Take-Two for just 16-19 times this year's profitability.

Take-Two rebuffed the offers at $25 and $26 a share. With Grand Theft Auto IV now just a month away, and subsequent episodic installments for Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Xbox version coming out this year and next to ease the lull between releases, EA's dumbest move was not acting on its acquisitive urges sooner.

It can no longer woo Take-Two into believing that it's a one-product company, because it's not. BioShock 2 is now in development for next year. Carnival Games is getting a Nintendo DS makeover, with a miniature-golf version for the Wii faithful coming later this year. 

EA is stuck. Activision (Nasdaq: ATVI  ) and Konami (NYSE: KNM  ) are too big. THQ (Nasdaq: THQI  ) and Majesco (Nasdaq: COOL  ) lack the monster franchise titles that EA covets. Take-Two may still be available, but raising its bid in buck increments will only give Take-Two more time to realize it's better off on its own.

David Gardner recommended Take-Two Interactive -- twice -- to Rule Breakers subscribers. Where EA dawdled, he showed up early, while Take-Two's stock was still cheap. When will video game companies learn?


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