Where have all the board game lovers gone?
The country's second-largest toymaker has made no bones about the challenges of 2010. It warned investors about the tough comparison it would be facing against a robust 2009 that featured its Transformers and G.I. Joe franchises blown up on the silver screen that summer. In that sense, the 7% decline in its toy categories for boys through all of 2010 is understandable. If you saw last night's Super Bowl you probably caught the ad for Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The flick's coming out this summer, and it's likely to boost action figure sales in the latter half of this year.
However, the more problematic part of Hasbro's report came from a 22% slide in its games and puzzles category during the holiday quarter. This was Hasbro's largest category during last year's fourth quarter, so it's not something that investors can dismiss.
CEO Brian Goldner points out "softness in U.S. consumer demand for games late in the year," but wasn't this a stellar holiday quarter for most retailers? Where are the folks passing the "Go" square on Monopoly for their $200? Where are the fans of "Magic: The Gathering"?
What were the hot toys this year? A lot of the winners fell outside of the realm of traditional playthings.
has sold 8 million Kinect motion-based controllers for the Xbox 360 since its launch in November. (Nasdaq: MSFT)
shipped 1.2 million uDraw game tablets for the Wii in its latest quarter. (Nasdaq: THQI)
moved 7.3 million iPads during the same three months, and cheaper Android tablets sold in the millions as well. This was a category that didn't even exist a year ago! (Nasdaq: AAPL)
Now, you may think that none of this has anything to do with Hasbro. A hot introduction from Mattel or even LeapFrog
The worst thing for Hasbro is that Kinect, uDraw, and iPad purchases aren't one-off buys. Owners will continue to justify their initial investments by buying games for their Kinect and uDraw accessories. Apple's App Store is loaded with free and premium diversions to download.
There's always been the fear that traditional playthings may be replaced by more interactive engagements. What if the end of the retro charm is now? Hasbro has been able to deliver 10 consecutive years of earnings growth on a per-share basis. Analysts see no problem with Hasbro stretching that streak to 11 this year.
I'm not so sure. Keep in mind that pre-tax profit actually fell in 2010. Hasbro was bailed out by a sharp drop in corporate taxes and its share buybacks. If gamers don't return to Hasbro's conventional playthings, I think 2011 will pose a bigger challenge than Wall Street is targeting. If so, it's a game that shareholders will regret losing.
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