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Earnings Preview: Nintendo’s Last Decade & Why Its Bright Future Starts Now

 

It’s been a challenging few years for Nintendo, but that all changes today!

 

Well, technically tomorrow, when Nintendo Co Ltd $NTDOY is scheduled to shares its final quarterly earnings of 2016, along with its full year results ending March 30th. It’s the first earnings release that covers all the new ventures Nintendo is presently embarking upon, in particular its mobile initiatives and its latest console product, the Switch.

 

Exactly one year ago, I first wrote about Nintendo’s financial position. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, but it certainly wasn’t anywhere near ideal for gaming’s oldest and most recognizable company. I think that’s about to change, and I’ll tell you why.

 

Note that these are not adjusted for inflation, but rather are reported figures.

 

First, let’s set up the situation leading into tomorrow’s important earnings release. The couple of charts above show how Nintendo’s revenue and net income (i.e. profit) have fared during the last decade or so going back to 2006. Note that starting with this quarter, 2017Q4, these are estimates based on analyst consensus since these obviously haven’t been reported yet.

 

Technical jargon alert! These analyst expectations for this most recent quarter are: Revenues around ¥158 billion (~ $1.43 billion), with a Net Loss of ¥13.5 billion ($122 million).

 

Back to regular jargon? Both of these results would be nice improvements since the same time last year.

 

Now looking big-picture, the time frame here spans two “full” console cycles for Nintendo, the Wii in 2007 and Wii U in 2012, then of course the early days of the Switch which only released last month. There were also three handheld iterations during these years, if you count the tail end of the Nintendo DS that had versions release during 2006-2009, then Nintendo 3DS in 2011 and finally Nintendo 2DS in 2013.

 

You’ll notice the results recently have been somewhat soft since early 2011, even holiday sales had been trending down in recent years (these occur in Nintendo’s 3rd quarter). This can be mostly attributed to lackluster Wii U sales after its release in 2012, since to date these total only 13.56 million units which subsequently leads to lower software sales despite the console having some really quality games on it. Compare this to the crazy Wii sales at 101.63 million or even earlier consoles like GameCube at 21.74 million, and you’ll get a sense for how Nintendo’s console hardware business has been dragging it down recently. Luckily its handheld business has been propping up the company’s overall bottom line.

 

 

 

But alas! The oldest gaming company can in fact learn new tricks, and here are a handful of reasons why I’m mostly upbeat from this earnings release going:

 

  • Mobile software. (This is big.)
  • Switch sales momentum. (Even bigger!)
  • Old franchises, new games: Zelda, Mario, Pokémon, (potentially Metroid, Kirby, Star Fox and the list goes on.)

 

Its new back of tricks started last year with its foray into mobile games, starting with Miitomo in March 2016 though really reaching peak phenomenon with Pokémon GO last July. It has since released Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes, with plans for an Animal Crossing game slated for this year. When it comes to financial impact, Nintendo admitted that Super Mario Run came in below expectations but I believe that’s a byproduct of the company testing different pricing models for its mobile games. Once it settles into the mobile space from a monetization standpoint, I expect it to be quite lucrative and have an impact right away on its results this year.

 

Nintendo’s toe-dipping into mobile is all well and good, but we know it for being a company that makes great games for its own cool hardware. Think about the classics: the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super NES, the Nintendo 64.. You get the picture. Though it’s been a while since these came out, Nintendo’s success has often hinged on it leveraging great hardware to create memorable experiences for all ages, and this is where the Switch comes in. I mentioned in a recent post the early sales success the hybrid console is having, so I won’t delve too much into the specifics, but suffice to say that I am confident Nintendo will hit us with some very positive figures and guidance when its earnings report is revealed tomorrow.

 

What would constitute “very positive”? According to Bloomberg, analysts on average are expecting that around 10 million Switch consoles will be shipped during April 2017 to March 2018. Personally, my expectation is in-line with this and I’ll even go as far to say that my personal prediction is 11 million will ship, bolstered by upcoming games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2 but most importantly Super Mario Odyssey this holiday. Combine this with the likely 2 million units that shipped during March, and that number through this time next year could very well be 12-13 million. Which is essentially what the Wii U has sold during the past 5 years combined. So, increased sales in a shorter window equals a financial boon.

 

 

Still, platforms are nothing without software. And I remain fully confident in Nintendo’s first-party software line-up, which features some of the most well-established brands and characters in all of gaming. Just this year alone we’ve already seen a brand new Zelda game in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and we’ll see a mainline Mario game in Super Mario Odyssey before the holidays. But going further, Nintendo has brands like Pokémon, Metroid, Kirby, Star Fox and more that are almost certain to be featured on Switch sooner rather than later, with some even expecting a Pokémon title to be brought to the platform this year.

 

This type of software portfolio is unparalleled in the games industry. Not to mention its development teams are super talented. So if Nintendo plays its cards right with quality new games from its oldest franchises, and gets them onto the Switch most importantly, the upside is significant. Software sells hardware. Plain and simple.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong, questions remain with the company. Especially when it comes to these areas:

 

  • Third party software support. This means companies other than Nintendo’s studios making games for its platforms.
  • Its handling of its back catalog. Right now, Nintendo’s sales platform for older games called Virtual Console is not available on the Switch.
  • The online subscription service that it’s developing for the Switch for release this year. This is an integral part of “modernizing” its offerings.
  • Plus the firm’s baffling decisions surrounding its novelty “mini” platforms the NES Classic and Famicom Mini, the former of which being discontinued for some reason and even when it was available, there were supply issues.

 

But it’s nothing that Nintendo hasn’t faced before. Shoot, it’s been around over a hundred years! In the context of its recent history, if you take this quarter and upcoming year, I think there is more to be optimistic about than the flip side. We’ll hear more about where its business is headed tomorrow, but I anticipate it will be pretty good news.

 

Are you as bullish on Nintendo as I am? Or taking a wait and see approach? Have you bought any of Nintendo’s products recently? If so, how do you like them? Feel free to leave a comment or shoot me a note on Twitter, where I often post daily about the games industry!

 

Sources: Nintendo Co Ltd, Bloomberg, NASDAQ, Tokyo Stock Exchange, Geek Insider

 

-Dom

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Quick Thoughts: Can The Division Replicate Destiny’s Success as a Shared-World Shooter?

Quick Thoughts: Simply put, can Tom Clancy’s The Division become as successful as its competitor Destiny, which made a record $500 million during its initial launch and was reported by Activision Blizzard Inc (ATVI) to be the top-selling new IP in North America and Europe in 2014?

 

Tom_Clancy's_The_Division

 

As noted in my previous article, publisher Ubisoft Entertainment SA (UBI) is releasing its biggest title of the year, Tom Clancy’s The Division, soon on March 8th. The shared-world, online shooter with RPG elements set in a frigid Manhattan is the firm’s biggest bet this year as it’s a brand new IP for which the firm expects it to “be one of the largest launches of a new brand in the history of the video game industry,” per CEO Yves Guillemot. And without an Assasin’s Creed title this year, and Watch Dogs 2 yet to be confirmed, The Division is the premier part of UBI’s calendar year portfolio.

Which leads me to my comparison to Activision Blizzard Inc (ATVI)’s hugely-popular online shooter Destiny. Stats from the firm’s reporting show the aforementioned record launch and even over a year later, the game has over 25 million registered users which have around 3 billion hours. It has yet to be seen if this success can be sustained through the decade-long plan that ATVI is rumored to have for the franchise, but with net revenues increasing last year to $4.6 billion (compared with $4.4 prior year), Destiny is a main contributing factor to the firm’s continued success as one of the world’s largest publishers.

 

ATVI 2015 Revenues

 

Going back to The Division, UBI hasn’t divulged their internal sales forecasts for the title in particular however they have released guidance of increased sales during final quarter of 2015-16 and relatively healthy full-year sales in 2016-17. From a consumer perspective, the game will scratch the same itch as Destiny from an RPG loot and leveling perspective however the key is its mechanics and narrative content, the latter of which was the main knock on Destiny when it first came out.

Based on this, it’s a fresh new IP that’s quite ambitious, so my personal take is if it delivers enough content between its story missions, side quests and “Dark Zone” PvP concept (which is an area many have compared to survival games where players can decide to either work together or fight against one another to collect the game’s best gear), I think that The Division can certainly compete with Destiny and even steal a portion of the games user base as ATVI hasn’t released new content since September 2015’s Taken King expansion. And ATVI announced that a sequel to Destiny won’t be out this year, which leaves the door open even further.

Whether it will generate $500 million in day-one sales or achieve 25 million users in its first year, that has yet to be seen, but the game is one of the year’s most intriguing releases.

 

Destiny Cover

Sources: Activision Blizzard Inc 4th Quarter & Full Year Financial Results 2015, Ubisoft 3rd Quarter 2015-16 Earnings, Xbox One UK.com

-Dom

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Bottom Line: Can Twitter Break Through Its Plateau & Grow?

Twitter Inc (TWTR)

Bottom Line: Between sluggishness in its user base and advertising dollars not able to outpace overall costs, what can TWTR do to jump-start growth and alleviate investor concern that it has hit a wall? How would you improve TWTR? Can the firm afford to change its service without alienating its dedicated users? See my opinion at the end of this post!

Twitter Inc (TWTR) is quite an interesting company in this day and age, as a rare “mature” social media company. Three years after its IPO, it has released its 2015 results and the news is mixed despite best efforts to jump-start growth. Which begs the question, has TWTR reached its plateau for users and revenue potential? Or will users respond positively to it adapting its strategies as it matures?

Quick snapshot, revenue is up more than 50% to $2.2 billion however the company is still losing money as it has for years (according to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, or GAAP, the standard used in the States). Though, it is losing less money this past year per below. I will note that the company reports “adjusted EBITDA” which is their non-GAAP measure of profit, as it excludes certain expenses.

 

TWTR Financial Summary 2015

 

Main concern is that for the first time ever, the company’s monthly average users were flat for the last quarter of 2015. Though annual users were up 9% to 320 million, this is the first time that TWTR’s user base has stagnated on a quarterly basis. Note that the vast majority of these users are outside of the United States, and in fact its users in the States declined during this time frame.

 

TWTR Monthly Users 2015

 

The firm reassures that users have since come up for the month of January, but we won’t know for sure until next quarter’s earnings. This is an essential detail, because users have been slowing down across 2015 compared with earlier years culminating in a flat quarter indicating that the firm may be hitting the dreaded plateau that maturing tech companies sometimes see. Investors have responded with skepticism, with the firm’s stock declining around 60% since beginning of 2015.

Still, like all companies, it’s about monetization. Its business is split across two areas: Advertising and Data Licensing & Other. The former segment is the main revenue driver, and grew to $2 billion last year primarily due to an increase in advertisers. Still, the company has substantial sales and marketing costs plus research and development which combine to $1.6 billion per year. It’s an example of a firm growing sales, but costs aren’t being held in-check at the same rate. It’s also interesting to me that a company like TWTR, which seems ubiquitous in today’s society, spends so much on marketing itself but perhaps this is akin to Pepsi Inc running TV ads to maintain its brand identity.

Another couple of items I’d like to mention are its young CEO Jack Dorsey returned to the firm last year and has started to reshape the look and feel of its core services, plus expand in areas like video streaming (via Periscope) and “Moments” which displays current news items and topics but is only available in three markets so far. The firm has the lofty goal to reach across the entire globe, but for some perspective, it is still small compared to a peer like Facebook which has 5 times the amount of users.

Personally, to answer my initial questions, I think the user experience is key and making it as easy as possible to on-board new users should be a cornerstone. Additionally, continuing to present itself as the go-to source for “live” interaction across a broad sweep of people with expanding “Moments” into more markets and supporting its existing video offerings is also a key strategy. I think the firm is doing a good job at integrating non-intrusive ads into its user experience and offering self-service for advertisers, it’s just that costs of doing business in particular marketing costs are still high and without further user growth, profitability and investor confidence seems a ways off.

Sources: Twitter Inc 2015Q4 Earnings, NY Times

-Dom

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Bottom Line: Disney Record Results But Market Outlook Negative?

Walt Disney Co. (DIS)

Bottom Line: Star Wars brand drove a quarter with record income for DIS, but contraction in Media Networks is a concern for analysts and investors going forward. It should be an interesting year for DIS as pipeline includes Finding Dory, Captain America: Civil War, more Disney Infinity but the main areas to watch are Star Wars merchandise and the future of ESPN.

Questions: What other areas or products can drive growth for DIS this year? Are you positive overall on ESPN? Can Star Wars alone, between licensing and merchandise, abate concern with Media Networks at least this year?

Dissecting a huge media conglomerate’s financials is a monumental task, so I won’t necessarily be posting every single stat or figure but want to address the above question while overviewing the company’s current business.

DIS reported 2016Q1 earnings this week, with record net income however the market sentiment is still negative as indicated by the firm’s stock movements after earnings release. So what’s behind this divergence? The firm’s main profit drivers are Media Networks (cable channels, ABC & ESPN etc) and Studio Entertainment (movies, including Star Wars and Marvel titles) with the latter almost doubling income since last year due to Star Wars: The Force Awakens release.

DIS Segments 2016Q1

The key here is that Media Networks income contracted since last year despite sales being up, as costs are also increasing on a relative basis. Driving this is partly timing, as the College Football Playoffs occurred during this quarter, but also rate increases for sports programming and production costs going up. A general concern is the sentiment around ESPN in particular, where programming costs are up and cable subscribers are “cutting the cord” adversely impacting advertising potential. To combat this, DIS is trying to expand ESPN mobile offerings, as WatchESPN now displays all live shows and events in order to have more eyeballs on advertising. I’ve even heard rumblings that DIS should consider an approach similar to HBO Now, offering ESPN content separate from a cable contract for a subscription fee. I’d say this is a last resort, at present.

DIS Media Networks 2016Q1

DIS Studio Entertainment 2016Q1

As for gaming, the Consumer Products & Interactive Media is actually quite healthy but this of course seasonal and this quarter included holiday 2015. Revenue and income were boosted by licensing from Star Wars i.e. Star Wars: Battlefront while Disney Infinity results were lower (sales volume down, inventory up). Even compared to last year, when Frozen merch was all the rave especially with kids accumulating annual sales of $3 billion, Star Wars gear has just begun to reap benefits and Nielsen expects it to account for $5 billion in revenue across this year.

Last note is that DIS results are being propped up by the steady Parks and Resorts segment, up more than 20% since last year driven by Americas region. I see this as continuing to be a key component of the firm’s diversified approach, especially as the cable landscape changes and products/interactive media remains seasonal and dependent on the strength of content and titles.

Sources: Walt Disney Co. Form 1oQ February 9, 2016; Walt Disney Co. Q1 FY2016 Earnings; Nielsen

-Dom

 

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My Approach: Bottom Line, Limited Clutter & Discussion-Oriented

Before I dive into more substantive posts, up front I wanted to address my approach to covering the areas of gaming, media, technology and the like. My experience is in financial data and writing, and part of my process is sifting through all the numbers and boiling it down to the key points. Like any good analysis or argument, I try my best to back these thoughts up with supporting details and sources but ultimately, we all know it’s about the bottom line.

With that in mind, I like to isolate the driving factors behind a certain result or trend. For instance, which underlying business is driving a company’s performance? Why is a game selling well in one region and not another? Should a company diversify across hardware and software, or will the cost outweigh benefits? Sure these are complex matters, but getting caught up in the minutiae is not something I’d like to do.

Note I won’t be striving for covering 24/7 news, or live blogging, or merely presenting statements or numbers without any context. Rather I’d like to drum up discussion. Am I missing something? Do you agree or disagree? As people, we all come from different backgrounds and perspectives so let’s express those viewpoints. As I noted in my first post and my bio, I realize this is the internet and it’s ambitious to think all our chats will be constructive. This is my hope here, and we can go from there!

-Dom