Activision Blizzard Q4 Earnings Preview: Strong Holiday Sales Defy Depressed Console Market

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By Yannick LeJacq | February 7, 2013 2:45 AM EST

Prominent video game publisher Activision Blizzard Inc. (Nasdaq:ATVI) is expected to report a nearly 12 percent profit increase for the fourth quarter on strong holiday sales of its flagship “Call of Duty” and “Skylanders” franchises.

The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company, which reports earnings Thursday after the market closes, is likely to report fourth-quarter earnings of $812.9 million, or 72 cents a share, on revenue of $2.44 billion, compared with earnings of $725 million, or 62 cents a share, on revenue of $2.41 billion a year earlier, according to analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters. That would mark an 11.72 percent profit gain and a 1.3 percent revenue gain.

For all of 2012, analysts expect Activision to report net income of $1.26 billion, or $1.12 per share, on revenue of $4.81 billion, compared with earnings of $1.09 billion, or 93 cents per share, on revenue of $4.49 billion in 2011.

Analysts cite the strong commercial performance of two of Activision’s flagship game titles -- “Skylanders: Giants,” and “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” -- both of which sold well throughout the holiday season despite the overall slowing down of hardware and software sales for the game industry. That slowdown reflects anticipation of the 2013 introduction of successor consoles to Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox 360 and Sony’s (NYSE:SNE) PlayStation 3 consoles. 

“Activision has less exposure to the console cycle,” the Goldman Sachs report said of the company’s performance. “4Q packaged goods trends were healthy.”

A report published Monday by Sterne Agee said that Activision's “Skylanders: Giants,” which was released in late October 2012, drew $195 million from retail sales in the fourth quarter alone. Since the franchise debuted in 2011, Activision says that it has now generated more than $500 million in sales, making it a strong companion to “Call of Duty” as one of the publisher’s core franchises.

Activision has not released its full sales figures for the latest iteration of “Call of Duty” yet, but analysts expect “Black Ops 2” to exceed the $775 million that 2011’s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” brought in for the company’s previous fourth-quarter earnings report. Citing data provided by NPD Group, a research report from Goldman Sachs published in late January predicted 0.2 percent growth in sales for “Call of Duty” in 2012. “Black Ops 2” also topped $500 million in its first day of sales, breaking Activision’s own sales record by early December when it generated $1 billion in just 15 days on the market.

The one spot on Activision’s record for the fourth quarter that gave some analysts pause was its massive multiplayer online game “World of Warcraft,” which has been losing monthly subscribers at a steady rate since its all-time-high of 12 million-plus players in October 2010. Blizzard’s game fell below 10 million subscribers for the first time since 2008 last August, but managed to recover after the expansion pack “Mists of Pandaria” was released Sept. 25. As of Nov. 7, “World of Warcraft” had more than 10 million monthly subscribers again, according to Sterne Agee’s estimate. 

Shares fell $1.63 to $98.14 in Wednesday midday trading.

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