Among video game stocks

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! It sits atop the Christmas lists of many a teenage boy (and quite a few grown men). But although the Xbox 360 has flown off store shelves since its U.S. introduction last month and has spurred fierce bidding on eBay, the excitement about Microsoft’s new game console hasn’t spilled over to the software companies that provide individual games. Videogame sales were uninspiring in November and the shares of Activision (ATVI), Electronic Arts (ERTS) and Take-Two Interactive (TTWO) declined sharply from early November to mid-December even as the broad stock market surged. Activision’s shares fell 8% Thursday after the company warned that its earnings for the fiscal year ending in March will be “significantly lower” than expected because of disappointing holiday sales. The group’s weakness may tempt investment bargain hunters who are counting on a new generation of game players to boost sales of individual games. After all, Microsoft is rolling out the new Xbox in Europe and Asia this month, while Sony (trading in the U.S. under the symbol SNE) will unveil Playstation 3 in the first half of 2006. Yet while December’s holidaydriven game sales might improve from November, they will struggle to surpass December 2004 levels. Companies’ financial forecasts “may be at risk this holiday,” says Banc of America Securities analyst Gary Cooper. Many consumers will defer purchases of new videogame software while they upgrade their game players. And at several hundred bucks a pop, the new consoles’ cost may deter splurges on individual games for a while. Amid a glut of football, wrestling and street-racing releases, “there is a relative lack of distinctive, innovative and sexy new games in the market” this year, says Piper Jaffray analyst Anthony Gikas. Pricing pressures also loom. Analysts are forecasting game-price cuts of at least 10% in coming months more for mid-tier titles as companies look to prod sales. Mr. Gikas recently trimmed his forecast for 2006 industry sales growth to 3% from 8%. He expects gains to remain sluggish into early 2006 before accelerating later in the year to reach 17% in 2007 and 12% in 2008. The stocks might look more appealing as longer-term bets. Electronic Arts of Redwood City, Calif., lately above $53, has an extensive game list and fiscal heft, but isn’t cheap, trading at a premium to its peers based on several valuation measures. Mr. Gikas singles out Activision of Santa Monica, Calif., whose profit he believes can grow at a segment-leading rate of about 20% annually over the next few years, making it a good bet compared with slower-growing peers. At around $13, it’s trading at about 21 times next year’s earnings. Activision also was among several small consumer-discretionary stocks highlighted by Citigroup for having superior management and good growth prospects as the maker of “Tony Hawk” and “Call of Duty” rolls out more games.last_img read more