It's great when a company produces a big hit in any industry. Shareholders get excited, the stock usually rises, and everyone is happy. However, the euphoria usually only lasts for a few months, then it becomes, "what have you done for me lately?" Take-Two Interactive Software (NASDAQ:TTWO) fits this profile perfectly with its huge hit, Grand Theft Auto V, but investors need to look to the future. Unfortunately, there are at least three issues that suggest Take-Two's future could mean the stock takes five.
Little to console investors
What would seem to be a big win for Take-Two is actually a big problem, considering the consequences to the company's bottom line. Take-Two seems to own the console business, as almost 80% of the company's sales come from console sales.
By comparison, Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA) gets about 60% of its revenue from console sales, and Activision-Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI) gets just 19%. The difference is, EA gets a decent portion of revenue from its mobile business, and Activision-Blizzard has a significant online gaming presence.
Take-Two's reliance on console gaming is just one reason investors should worry about the company. While Grand Theft Auto V generated huge sales last year, the end of 2014 looks like it will be a much tougher comparison. EA has its regular releases of Madden, NHL, and UFC franchises. However, Activision-Blizzard is the one Take-Two needs to worry about.
Activision-Blizzard is hitting the market with updated versions of Call of Duty, Skylanders, Diablo, and World of Warcraft, all near the end of 2014. In addition, the creators of Halo are releasing a new, highly anticipated first-person shooter called Destiny. The bottom line is, Take-Two needs its next Grand Theft Auto version to be a smash hit, but faced with this type of release schedule, that outcome looks doubtful.
A distribution problem of a different kind
Activision-Blizzard is the only one of the big three game publishers that pays a dividend, and some investors are wondering if Take-Two will step up to the plate with a payout. After all, in the last twelve months, the company generated almost $600 million in core free cash flow.
That being said, Activision-Blizzard generated over $1 billion in core free cash flow last year, and EA generated over $400 million in free cash flow in just the last three months. While speculation will continue as to whether EA or Take-Two will initiate a dividend first, Take-Two has a distribution issue of a different kind.
If the future of gaming is digital, Take-Two is playing from behind. In the most recent quarter, the company generated nearly 43% of its revenue from digital sales. If this seems like a lot, consider that EA gets 60% from digital and Activision-Blizzard gets almost 70%.
With newer consoles, the challenge for digital sales is that the games are difficult, if not impossible, to move between consoles. In this way, Take-Two must rely more heavily on disc-based sales. Obviously producing discs and cases is more expensive than producing a digital download.
This leads to the bottom line
Like dominoes falling, Take-Two's reliance on console games and its lower percentage of digital sales are directly hurting the company's bottom line. Investors should also worry about Take-Two's operating margin significantly lagging its peers.
While Activision-Blizzard's operating margin sits at more than 38%, and EA's margin is north of 30%, Take-Two managed to report a negative operating margin in the last three months. While the company cut its cost of goods sold and selling and marketing costs, general and administrative expenses actually rose by almost 26%.
With a heavy reliance on console gaming, lower digital sales, and the only negative operating margin of the big three, Take-Two investors had better hope that things get better. Unfortunately, without some major changes to the company's business, it's possible that investors need to take five before buying Take-Two's stock.