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Wedbush: Expect 24% April U.S. Game Growth

Analyst Michael Pachter at Wedbush Morgan has released his preview of the NPD U.S. game charts for April, due out this Thursday, and is forecasting game sales up 24% to $489 million, but the PlayStation 3 hardware to sell just 100,000 copies - one third o
Analyst Michael Pachter at Wedbush Morgan has released his preview of the NPD U.S. game charts for April, and is forecasting game sales of $489 million, up 24% compared to last year's $395 million. The report, arriving before the actual NPD results, which will likely debut after market close on Thursday, May 17, suggests $345 million in software sales contribution from new platforms (PS3, Wii, 360, PSP and DS). Of the $345 million in next-gen game sales, $95 million is anticipated to be derived from Wii and PS3 releases. The firm also expects that the Wii to have outsold the PlayStation 3 by a 3:1 margin during the month, with the consoles having sold through 300,000 and 100,000 units respectively. Looking to other hardware platforms, Wedbush expects that the Xbox 360 sold through 175,000 units for the period, while the PlayStation 2 is expected to continue to impress, with 250,000 units sold during April. As far as handhelds, the firm feels the Nintendo DS will continue to be the strongest of the lot with an estimated 450,000 units sold, followed by the PSP with 200,000 and finally the Game Boy Advance with 100,000 units sold. The firm believes that April's software sales were driven by Nintendo's Pokemon Diamond/Pearl for the Nintendo DS, titles which Nintendo revealed surpassed 500,000 preorders a week before the games were released. “We estimate that the title sold over 800,000 units during the month,” commented Pachter, who added that the firm continues to expect “strong sales” from recent releases such as Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 for the Xbox 360, God of War II for the PlayStation 2, and Activision's Guitar Hero II for the Xbox 360. Looking to Activision specifically, Pachter noted belief that the publisher generated $60 million in sales for the month, up significantly compared to last April. “We believe that sales were once again led by Guitar Hero II (360) selling 350,000 units,” wrote the analyst. “The game was supply constrained throughout the month, and our estimate reflects an attach rate of almost 12% in only five weeks of release. It is possible that the game sold a greater number of units, as we think that the overall attach rate on the Xbox 360 may ultimately approach 20%.” He further noted the firm does not expect the recently released movie tie-in Spiderman 3, which launched the day before the reporting month ended, sold more than 100,000 units through pre-orders, and that Activision's catalog sales were led by games pulled from the Call of Duty, Marvel, and Tony Hawk franchises. Other companies expected to report gains for April include Ubisoft with an estimated $32 million in sales for the month, and Majesco with a predicted $3 million in sales, driven primarily by Cooking Mama for the Wii. On the down side, Wedbush expects that Atari, Electronic Arts, Midway, Take-Two, and THQ to all report results that reflect lower sales than those reported the prior year. Focusing on the continuation of sales for the PlayStation 2, Pachter comments: “We expect a high level of software support for the PS2 platform for the foreseeable future, and expect only modest year-over-year declines (approximately 20%) for the first half of 2007... Over the next four months, we expect the PS2 versions of Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, Ratatouille, Transformers, and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to sell more units than on any other platforms.” Finally, looking forward, Pachter comments: "Most of the major U.S. publishers have already announced solid March quarter results, and we expect sales strength to continue in April. Share prices of the major U.S. publishers may pull back later in 2007, when software sales growth comparisons become more difficult, hardware sales remain flat, and investors attempt to lock-in any gains. Now that supply and demand of the PS3 and Wii are near balance (expected for the Wii in May), we think that hardware unit sales will be more modest than they were in the analogous period of 2002, when console prices averaged under $200. We continue to expect higher average console prices to be an impediment to rapid sell-through of hardware, and we expect cycle-to-cycle declines of 10% or more for hardware sales to persist through the end of summer 2007." He adds: “It is possible that Sony’s cost of production for the PS3 has declined to the point that the company may consider a hardware price cut some time this summer, and we may see a price cut for the PS2 before the holidays. Either of these could serve as a catalyst for sales growth later in the year. We expect PS2 software sales strength to persist well into 2007, especially as a blockbuster lineup of licensed movie-themed games is released between May and July.” Concluding, Pachter states: “We now expect software sales growth to continue at low double-digit rates through summer 2007 (in spite of year over year comparisons that average +20%). Should we be right, we think that investors concerns about a secular shift away from video games will subside, and we expect the U.S. publisher stocks to continue to appreciate.”

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