Call me crazy, but I truly don't see why so many of my Foolish colleagues absolutely love Activision Blizzard
And I don't buy any of it.
The just-reported third-quarter results look all right. Sales grew 6% year-over-year to $745 million and GAAP earnings bounced from $0.01 per share to $0.04 per share. Both the top and bottom lines beat management guidance and analyst estimates by significant margins. So far, so good.
But then you're not looking at the business itself -- just the numbers on the surface. On a trailing-12-month basis to smooth out seasonal effects, Activision's sales are on a 4.9% growth trajectory and earnings are rising by just 18%. That's a serious slowdown from recent years, and I blame a lack of fresh thinking.
All Activision wants to talk about is sequel upon sequel to its existing franchises. That's cool as long as they perform: Call of Duty and WarCraft/StarCraft are treating the company very well at the moment. But those gravy trains don't roll forever. Just look at the Guitar Hero series as an example of franchises rolling off the tracks. Once a billion-dollar business, the recently released Warriors of Rock installment was not even mentioned in the earnings release and got only a cursory treatment in the conference call. Not a single analyst question concerned the Guitar Hero property. That once-shining star has lost its luster.
Why would the other franchises be any different? Where's the innovation? How is Activision changing to keep up with the times? I don't see clear answers to these questions and hence can't be convinced that it's a great company or stock.
To its credit, Activision is trying to hook into that trend with a number of smartphone editions of its games. Notably, WarCraft addicts can buy and sell in-game items right on their phones. But I don't think it's enough. Check back in five years, and the new giants of the gaming industry may very well be Zynga and Rovio, with the former market leaders reduced to dinosaur status and fighting over table scraps.
Has Anders gone off his rocker? Explain Activision's greatness (or lack thereof) in the comments below.