Activision Blizzard, Inc. (ATVI), Sony Corporation (ADR) (SNE), Electronic Arts Inc. (EA): How Will New Independence Change its Fortunes?

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Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI) A long-awaited move by one of the world’s most prominent video game makers is finally set to go down. According to a recent announcement, Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI) will spearhead an $8.2 billion buyback plan that will essentially neutralize the controlling stake that French conglomerate Vivendi currently owns. After years of being controlled by outside owners, Activision will have far more freedom of movement in its day-to-day operations.

Investors were not surprised to learn that this buyback is priced below Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI)’s current share-price levels. While the timetable of the agreement is not yet clear, it is expected to have a significant impact on the company’s short-term price action. Enterprising traders may be able to use this situation to squeeze some unanticipated profits out of the company’s stock. For longer-term investors, this could set up an excellent entry point into a stock that continues to show promise.

Activision Blizzard and the Competition

As a multinational video game developer that works with numerous console makers and distributors, Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI) occupies a coveted place near the top of the technology heap. The company competes with household-name developers and electronics firms, including Sony Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:SNE) and Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ:EA).

Activision Blizzard competes directly with these companies in some gaming categories. Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI)’s Call of Duty series competes with Sony Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:SNE)’s SOCOM series, although Call of Duty gets far better ratings and has far outsold SOCOM. Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ:EA) doesn’t specialize in first person shooter games but they do have the successful Battlefield series. Activision has many other games, including massive multiplayer games like World of Warcraft. Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ:EA) specializes in sports titles but has been branching into all types of other game genres.

Activision is much larger than its in-state rival. Its pre-buyback market capitalization of $20.3 billion exceeds that of Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ:EA) by more than 60 percent. Meanwhile, Sony Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:SNE)’s market cap of around $22 billion puts it just a hair ahead of the much less diversified Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI). Of course, Sony has struggled with some serious profitability and pipeline issues. As a result, its price-to-book ratio is a depressing .78. This compares to 3.18 for EA and 1.76 for Activision.

Activision remains quite profitable: Its 2012 earnings of $1.2 billion came on about $5 billion in revenues. Moreover, it managed to boost its revenues by 13 percent and up its earnings by more than 18 percent. For its part, EA turned a much smaller profit of $119 million on $3.8 billion in revenues. With earnings of $546 million and revenues of $86 billion, Sony Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:SNE) was barely profitable.

All three of these companies have manageable amounts of debt. Although the buyback will force it to take on a considerable amount of debt, Activision currently has no long-term debt and enjoys a cash reserve of $4.6 billion. EA has about $1 in debt for every $2 in cash on its books. Sony’s ratio is a mirror image of Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ:EA)’s.

Recent Price Action

Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI)’s recent stock-price graph is very peculiar-looking. After reaching a high near $14 per share in late 2011, Activision traded sideways until the beginning of 2013. As rumors of a massive buyback began to intensify, investors added to their holdings and drove the stock into a narrow range between $14 and $15 per share. Another period of sideways trading followed. After the formal announcement of the buyback plan, the company’s stock shot up to about $18 per share and looks likely to stabilize at that level.

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