Take-Two beats previous its high score in Q4, but tilts

Record net revenue and income were high points in Wednesday's earnings call from Take-Two Interactive. But losses continue to mount, and astringent initial guidance for 2009 was accompanied by some sharp words for the analyst crowd.

There's money in the games game, if you don't mind a little whiplash now and then. The company, which offers such titles as the Grand Theft Auto series, Bioshock, and the 2K Sports roster, reported net income for its fiscal fourth quarter of $97.1 million or $1.28 / share, and non-GAPP net income of $158.2 million or $2.08 / share, for fiscal year 2008. In 2007's Q4, it had reported a net loss of, respectively, $138.4 million or $1.93 / share, and $81.0 million or $1.13 / share. Gross profit for the year, by the way, was $548.8 million -- that's right, over half a billion, more than double the 2007 take ($246.8 million).

That's the upside, but everyone knows it's the downside that bruises. Net losses for fourth quarter were $15.0 million, or 20 cents / share -- double the loss in Q4 2007. Non-GAAP profits for 4Q were 2 cents / share.

The company's looking for that silver lining, even though it was noted that "the world is a different place than it was 45 days ago." CEO Ben Feder talked about acquisition opportunities for creative talent on the hoof as well as expansion in Asia -- the area of the world which he believes will recover soonest from the economic slump.

Still, the initial guidance given for next year -- its "significantly reduced 2009 expectations," as the company put it -- is bleak, with predicted full-year revenue of between $1.1 billion and $1.25 billion and per-share returns of somewhere between nothing and 20 cents. Wall Street was estimating around $1.21. For first quarter, under way now, it's revenue of between $175 million and $225 million, with a loss of between 70 and 85 cents / share.

And that's if everything ships on time.

The earnings report argued for some special consideration on the non-GAAP numbers. Readers may remember that back in March 2007, stockholders built a broom-shaped new board of directors and swept out the company president, CEO and (under his own steam) CFO. The report points out that the ensuing massive re-org was pretty expensive, but says that that's substantially settled as of the end of FY 2008 (October 31). Legal costs are a bear at Take-Two too; between EA's unwanted acquisition bid in early 2008 and the long-looming cloud of government investigations and civil suits...well, things add up.

Some analysts queried on the numbers were unimpressed, saying the company stock's performing below their expectations in any case. Chairman Strauss Zelnick returned the love: "We don't have an obligation to meet the guidance analysts set for us," he said at one point in response to a question posed by one would-be prognosticator. Another exchange concerned whether Take-Two had already issued guidance for 2009.

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