Maybe Things Are Not So Bad in Video Game Land After All

24/7 Wall St.

Didn't GameStop Corp. (GME) just wreck the video game sector growth when it issued its warning earlier this last week? After all, the video game retailing company did warn of lower holiday sales and lower earnings. That report was unexpected enough that it took down the entire video game sector. But now we have a conflicting report from NPD Group showing that sales were better industry-wide.

NPD indicated that hardware sales were about $1.37 billion, up 28% or so from a year earlier. Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) scored with unit sales of 908,000 in the U.S. alone, but the week earlier launch of the PlayStation 4 from Sony Corp. (SNE) allowed it to keep its lead on a combined unit basis for both November and December.

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What is so interesting is that both Microsoft and Sony could have sold even more consoles at the start than they did. Both companies had widespread supply issues that limited availability. This likely muted what would have been better video game software sales. We previously saw that total holiday sales had Sony in the lead with 4.2 million PS4 units, and some 3 million units for the holidays from the Xbox One consoles.

Is it possible that GameStop was merely a fluke rather than a harbinger? The company said that video game sales were down more than 22% from a year earlier to $1.08 billion, even if console sales doubled from $524.5 million to $1.05 billion. The real wildcard is in the video game publishing companies.

Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) saw a 10% surge to $23.72, overcoming all of its losses from the week. It turns out that a firm called CRT Capital started coverage with a Buy rating and a $26 price target. This stock still remains down substantially from its peak, and the 52-week range is $13.99 to $28.13. Its market cap is $7.4 billion.

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Activision Blizzard Inc. (ATVI), which is the producer of Call of Duty, is not responding well. Its stock is down almost 2% at $17.02. The 52-week range is $11.25 to $18.55, and its market cap is closer to $11.8 billion. CRT started it with a Buy rating and assigned a $23 price target.

Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. (TTWO), maker of the hit Grand Theft Auto franchise, was up more than 1% at $16.90, against a 52-week range of $11.55 to $19.25. CRT Capital assigned a "Fairly Valued" ranking on it and gave a $19 price target.

GameStop shares were down another 1.4% to $37.23 on the news. Whenever you get huge gap-downs in a stock as we saw last week, they rarely have snap-back rallies. Still, it seems that the data out there is mixed, compared to what the largest video game retailer suggested.

24/7 Wall St. would also refer readers back to a report that came out after the GameStop implosion. Sterne Agee reiterated its Buy rating on GameStop but cut the target price to $52 from $58 in the call. What stood out was not the sales already ahead of estimates but the forecast. Sterne Agee's Arvind Bhatia said:

In the holiday period, PS4 and Xbox One combined sold through 7.2M units worldwide or about 20% ahead of our estimate of 6M. We think the installed base of these two boxes will ramp up to 30M worldwide by the end of CY14 and nearly 50M by the end of 2015, or nearly 40% above the comparable period in the last cycle.

So, 30 million consoles by the end of 2014 and 50 million in total by the end of 2015? This is solid news for Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PS4.

One last issue that is often overlooked in video game sales. Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) is one we showed a bull and bear case signaling that it may be back from the land of the dead. AMD has the processor win in both the Xbox and the PS4, which may be partly on cost and also on graphics integration. That is part of a longer ongoing development, but having 30 million units expected to sell in 2015 and a total of 50 million (cumulative of course) by the end of 2015 sure offers a solid base. It is not just a coincidence that AMD is expected to have double-digit sales growth in 2014 and that it is expected to return to profitability in 2014.

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