Activision Blizzard's Forgettable Record-Breaking Year

The first half of 2012 is in the rearview mirror, and investors are gearing up for what looks to be an action-packed ending to the year. There are bound to be some big winners -- and more than a few duds -- no matter what happens in the U.S. and abroad.

Will your favorite stock have its victory lap as we hit the home stretch, or will it get lapped? First-half performances can hold some clues, so let's look to the recent past to find out whether Activision Blizzard (NAS: ATVI) deserves a place in your portfolio going forward.

First-half recap
If you've been watching Activision over the last few years, you probably know the story of its stock moves in 2012. A huge game (or two or three) is released, gamers go nuts, and the market shrugs. Not even Diablo III could lift this stock out of its rut, as you can see here:

ATVI Total Return Price Chart

ATVI Total Return Price data by YCharts.

Here's a snapshot of its recent performance:

Market Cap$13.3 billion
TTM Revenue$4.48 billion
TTM Net Income$966 million
TTM Free Cash Flow$894 million
MRQ Revenue$1.17 billion
MRQ Net Income$384 million
MRQ Free Cash Flow$144 million
MRQ Revenue Change (YOY)(19.1%)
MRQ Net Income Change (YOY)(23.7%)
Forward P/E11.1
Price to Free Cash Flow14.4
Motley Fool CAPS Rating (out of 5)****

Source: Morningstar. TTM = trailing-12-month. MRQ = most recent quarterly. YOY = year-over-year.

What the numbers don't tell you
Fool analysts Eric Bleeker and Jason Moser sat down at the end of 2011 to answer the question, "What will it take to move Activision?" Whatever the answer is, the market hasn't found it yet. For two years, Activision has underperformed the S&P 500, despite an impressive rise in net income:

ATVI Total Return Price Chart

ATVI Total Return Price data by YCharts.

More important considerations here are the stock's precipitous P/E drop and the worrying trend of diminishing free cash flow. Based on all the records Activision has been setting, you'd think that cash flow would be on the upswing. It's not the company's long-standing stock repurchase plan kicking into high gear, either; Activision's share buyback efforts have been declining since 2009.

What happened? World of Warcraft got old. Nearly 2 million people (and orcs, goblins, night elves, etc.) have left Azeroth since the end of 2010, leaving Activision with a still-sizable population of 10.2 million subscribers. Electronic Arts' (NAS: EA) competing role-playing game, in comparison, has just 1.3 million active subscribers. (NAS: NTES) , Activision's Chinese WoW operator, has also been suffering player attrition, but its other games have managed to pick up the slack.

Activision's Blizzard segment let go of 600 employees weeks after announcing its new population number. The market didn't care. The market hasn't particularly cared about anything Activision has done this year, despite the fact that some major things have happened. Call of Duty's next installment will arrive in November, as it tends to. Diablo III set sales records and then suffered a minor PR crisis when its "always-on" requirement wasn't supported by always-on servers on launch day. The game also unveiled Activision's new monetization strategy, which can be summed up thusly: "Let gamers buy things from each other with real money and take a 30% cut."

So far it seems Activision is content to stick with the PC-and-console-blockbuster strategy. It's not yet taking cues from EA and branching out into mobile and social games to compete with Zynga (NAS: ZNGA) , which some of my colleagues have argued may be Activision's biggest threat. Nor has it yet gone Disney (NYS: DIS) by becoming a multimedia entertainment powerhouse, as Jason Moser suggested last year.

Majority stakeholder Vivendi has recently been fishing for a buyer for its shares, which doesn't indicate a lot of faith in the company's long-term performance. I can't say I blame Vivendi. Activision is one of the few gaming companies with enough resources to really break boundaries, but it seems content to churn out franchise sequels on established formats instead. Compared to most of its peers (even Disney, which has its own mobile-gaming division), Activision seems like a lumbering dinosaur.

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The article Activision Blizzard's Forgettable Record-Breaking Year originally appeared on

Fool contributor Alex Planes holds no financial position in any company mentioned here. Add him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter @TMFBiggles for more news and insights.The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney and Activision Blizzard. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Walt Disney, Activision Blizzard, and NetEase. Motley Fool newsletter services have also recommended creating a synthetic long position in Activision Blizzard. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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