GameStop Is a Reluctant Dinosaur

The video game retailer holds up well, but projects poorly.

Rick Munarriz
Rick Munarriz
May 19, 2011 at 12:00AM

GameStop (NYSE: GME) isn't ready for the Smithsonian display case just yet.

The video game retailer is still alive and kicking after posting a better-than-expected quarterly report this morning.

Sales climbed 9.5% to $2.28 billion in its fiscal first quarter, fueled by a 5.3% spike in same-store sales. Earnings only climbed 6.9%, but massive share buybacks over the past year have eaten away at the outstanding share count to deliver 16.7% bottom-line growth on a per-share basis.

Earnings of $0.56 a share on $2.28 billion in sales looks better than the $0.54 a share profit on $2.23 billion in sales that Wall Street was targeting.

The numbers look good, so why did the chain's stock open 5% lower today? Well, GameStop chose to reiterate its earlier guidance. This may seem like a non-event, but it's problematic for two reasons.

The first concern is that sticking to its goal of net income clocking in between $2.82 and $2.92 a share implies that the final nine months of the fiscal year will be weaker than originally planned after landing ahead of its targets during the first three months.

The other problem is that this is really a hose-down in disguise. GameStop's guidance doesn't include the impact of share repurchases, and it spent $117.7 million during the past quarter alone to zap nearly 6 million shares. In other words, it bought its way to this reiteration.

Either way, this doesn't sit well with the analysts who were already camping out at the high end of the range with a consensus earnings estimate of $2.92 a share.

GameStop still deserves some praise for its ability to grow in what has been a hectic environment. Video game industry sales have been largely moribund since 2009, despite a strong April.

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The industry is going digital, and GameStop's trying to make sure that it's on the right side of that velvet rope by making timely acquisitions. The rub is that the playing field is too level for game developers. GameStop as a digital distributor will be an even meatier challenge. The hardware companies man the gateways of choice, and it's hard to fathom Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) or Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) giving that up.

GameStop has always had a love-hate relationship with developers. Software companies love the physical distribution, but they resent GameStop's high-margin resale business that eats into their pockets. Nobody owes GameStop any favors in digital distribution, so it will be down to its ability to snap up the right interlocking pieces to make tomorrow work.

GameStop has outlasted many of the other media retailers. Comps have turned negative at Best Buy (NYSE: BBY), Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS), and Blockbuster as their media wares belly flop into the digital wading pool. GameStop keeps going in the right direction. It sees comps growth of 3.5% to 5.5% for this fiscal year.

Value hounds like what they see here. They see a growing company trading at a single-digit earnings multiple. I see a game of chicken. Play if you must, but be ready for a quick exit before you hit the cliff.

Disagree with me? Let me have it in the comment box below.