Ben Feder's confidence took a beating on Friday.
Feder, Take-Two Interactive's
Don't take it personally, Feder. The stock only rose because Take-Two's viability as a buyout candidate just went through the roof. The gamer fave's been a popular buyout candidate before, but now, with Executive Chairman Strauss Zelnick wearing the CEO hat, potential acquirers are freer than ever to make their bids.
After all, Feder isn't even bolting for another job. According to the press release, Feder's stepping down "in order to pursue plans to travel in Asia with his family for an extended period."
That's a pretty Zen move for a guy at the helm of a company behind edgy blockbusters such as Red Dead Redemption, BioShock, and the monster Grand Theft Auto franchise.
Naturally, Feder's departure doesn't really mean that Take-Two is for sale. Even if it were formally on the block, we can't count on any buyer stepping up with an agreeable premium offer. However, we may as well turn our attention to the most obvious suitors.
Take-Two has been on EA's wish list before. Zelnick helped rebuff a hostile $26-a-share buyout offer two years ago.
At the time, EA wanted in on Take-Two's flagship franchise, just as Grand Theft Auto IV was breaking sales records. It also helped that basketball -- one of the sports that the otherwise mighty EA Sports doesn't truly dominate -- would have received a prolific boost from Take-Two's NBA 2K series.
Some will argue that EA dodged a bullet. Take-Two sputtered in the lull between Grand Theft Auto releases. Profits turned to losses. Delays plagued releases. Only over the past few quarters has Take-Two bounced back in a major way. As a result, EA can now buy a more diversified Take-Two for a lot less than its original $26 offer.
EA is struggling. Analysts expect it to post its second consecutive quarterly loss tomorrow. Absent a hit from its own stable to titles, EA could benefit by buying up a more successful rival.
The country's largest video game publisher doesn't have as many holes to fill as EA, but it can always bid on Take-Two just to make sure that EA doesn't get it.
This wouldn't be just a game of keep-away for Activision Blizzard. Analysts see the game titan's revenue declining by 7% this year, and regaining only some of that loss next year. At the right price, a Take-Two deal would even be accretive to earnings.
The parent company of MTV had a surprise hit on its hands with the Rock Band series, that raised the bar -- for a while -- on the music niche pioneered by Activision Blizzard's Guitar Hero.
How did that happen? Well, Viacom bought Guitar Hero creator Harmonix in 2006.
Viacom's MTV won't shy away from Take-Two's controversial titles, and having the Mafia, BioShock, and Grand Theft Auto franchises will help give Viacom street cred and cool points.
Microsoft is in a good groove lately. Its Xbox 360 has been the top-selling console for four consecutive months.
Title exclusivity is the best way to stay on top. Now that Halo's creators will be crafting a new property for Activision Blizzard, it wouldn't hurt Microsoft to have Take-Two in its arsenal.
If the next installments in the Grand Theft Auto, BioShock, and Red Dead franchises are exclusive to the Xbox 360 -- even if that means forgoing sales to Sony
Microsoft already knows the value of Xbox exclusivity. It paid $50 million to Take-Two for a pair of Grand Theft Auto IV episodes that were initially exclusive Xbox 360 downloads. Why not buy the cash cow and milk it as needed?
Sony could also step up under the same logic, but Microsoft is the most likely to do so, given its healthier balance sheet and gaming momentum.
Is a buyout Take-Two's best shot for serious capital appreciation? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.
Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Take-Two Interactive Software is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, and Nintendo are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Motley Fool Options has recommended a synthetic long position on Activision Blizzard. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Activision Blizzard, Microsoft, and Take-Two Interactive Software. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz will admit to still playing video games, though finding time is tricky. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool has a disclosure policy.