Are Video Games Really Recession Proof? (GME, ERTS, ATVI, THQI, TTWO)

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NPD released its monthly video game data showing that December video game spending increased 30.9% from December 2006. What is interesting is that software sales of game titles were up 36%, while hardware in game console sales was up 17%.  These are strong numbers and while that strength is irrefutable, 2008 will be a tough repeat because of comparable sales to 2007 over 2006 levels from late 2006 console launches.  The question is, "Are video games recession-proof?" 

Video game sales are in the home and frankly video games are perhaps one of the cheapest forms of entertainment on a dollar per hour basis there is.  Recession-proof might be a stretch.  Sales will be strong and there will still be money made by the game publishers.  But the holy grail of ‘comparable sales’ is going to be a tough one on the console makers in 2008.  Here are just some of the articles today on the bet that game sales will or won’t hold up:

In hardware sales saw a 63% gain for the Sony PlayStation 3, a 123% rise in the Nintendo Wii, and up 15% in Xbox 360 sales. Hand-held device sales rose 54% for the Nintendo DS and 11% for the Sony PSP.

The next assured mega-hit title coming out is Take-Two’s (NASDAQ: TTWO) Grand Theft Auto IV.  But at some point (and likely some point soon) these console sales aren’t going show the same gains like in 2007.  This notion that World of Warcraft may potentially be coming to video game consoles might add literally millions of gamers to the MMORPG craze.  All of this would be good for video games.  Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: ERTS) has its waves of upcoming releases in the year and Activision (NASDAQ: ATVI) is looking interesting in the upcoming Activision-Blizzard merger.  Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) Bungie Studios may soon be its own public company too. Interestingly enough, we expect another merger in this sector although maybe not in the classic scenario and that has been under review for our Special Situation Investing Newsletter

We think that GameStop (NYSE: GME) will actually hold up better thanoverall stores like Best Buy or Circuit City based on game title salesin 2008, but there just aren’t any new major platform launches on thehorizon for maybe another two years.  That varies from person toperson, but some feel we’ll have the same gaming systems until 2011.  Our notion is that video games might actually be somewhat recession-proof.  But with $1.76 as the high part of the guidance out of GameStop, at $50.00 this still leaves its P/E at 28.4.  If the economy gets any worse than we think can then investors might not be wanting to pay that multiple after a 400% stock rise since the start of 2005.  We have been very positive on this on for some time and we don’t think it will go to hell in a hand basket.  But it will take the U.S. not falling into a recession for us to stay very positive on GameStop today and this stock has been peaking since November.  GameStop also a competitor coming on strong as well.

GameStop shares have fallen from $60+ at the start of 2008 before it gave raised guidance that the street panned and shares now sit right at $50.00 (with a $49.72 close).  An 18% slide is significant, even if it is still up 100% from the 52-week lows.

Jon C. Ogg
January 18, 2008

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