Pachter explains his criticism of Nintendo
wii-u-launch
Published on February 23rd, 2013

Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter took to NeoGAF this week to defend his recent remarks regarding Nintendo.

He recently made headlines when he reported stated that the company “had made a costly mistake” with Wii U, and that it was an error that they “may not recover from.”

Pachter believes it is imperative that Nintendo return to profitability, and encourages them to arrange more licensing deals as well as releasing their older games through mobile platforms.

“…there is actually some reasoning behind my comments that the Wii U is a mistake from which Nintendo may not recover, and I threw the 3DS’ cannibalization from smart phones and tablets in there to make a point,” Pachter begins, and which continues ad verbatim.

“Nintendo has historically made money, and a lot of money, on each hardware unit sold. The DS at $99 US is more profitable for them than the 3DS at $169 (see many quotes from Nintendo in Kyoto about losing money, or being barely profitable). The DS sold 23.5 million units in FY:07 (ended March 31), 30.3 million in FY:08, 31.1 million in FY:09, and 27.1 million in FY:10. Nintendo made money, and a lot of money, in each of those years.

“I think it is instructive to use operating income in Yen as a guide, since Iwata said he would consider resigning if Nintendo did not earn ¥100 billion in FY:14. Nintendo made ¥90 billion in FY:06, ¥226 billion in FY:07, ¥487 billion in FY:08, ¥555 billion in FY:09, and ¥356 billion in FY:10. In FY:11, DS sales dropped to 17.5 million units, and operating income fell to ¥171 billion; in FY:12, combined DS and 3DS sales were 18.6 million units, but operating income disappeared, and Nintendo generated a LOSS of ¥37 billion. Obviously, the loss was impacted by lower Wii sales and lower software sales, but the point here is that the 3DS doesn’t generate much of a profit per unit, if any, and the DS did.

“Over the same period, Wii hardware sales were 0, 5.8 million, 18.6 million, 25.9 million, 20.5 million, 15.0 million, and 9.8 million. We have been repeatedly assured by Nintendo that the company makes a profit on every Wii sold, but as sales leveled off at 10 million, the company printed its first loss ever.

“In FY:13 (the current year, ending next month), Nintendo is projected to sell 17.3 million DS and 3DS units combined, and to sell 8 million Wii and Wii U units combined, and is projected to generate an operating loss of ¥20 billion. That means that current levels of sales keep the company at roughly breakeven.

“My comment about the Wii U being a “mistake” from which the company “may not recover” was intended to say that if Wii U sales don’t materially improve, Nintendo is unlikely to be profitable. They have around ¥1 trillion (around $11 billion) in cash, so they aren’t in danger of going out of business for decades. However, if they aren’t profitable, they aren’t doing a good job for shareholders.

“To elaborate, if the Wii U is not generating profits, and if the 3DS is not generating profits, the only thing that will generate profits is software. Nintendo is ensured high sales of its proprietary software, but it makes the most money on its royalty business, collecting fees from third parties for the privilege of letting them put out games on Nintendo platforms. Publishing (software) revenues peaked at ¥675 billion in FY:09, and are on track to come in around ¥235 billion this year; my call is that if hardware sales don’t materially improve above current combined levels, software sales are unlikely to materially grow. If software sales don’t materially improve, losses or break even will become the norm. Nintendo will not “recover” to its formal highly profitable glory.

“The poor sales of the Wii U in January are likely to impact third party publisher plans to support the console. Notice that GTAV is not on the Wii U; that wasn’t a typo, they don’t see enough promise in sales to cause them to spend extra development dollars on a Wii U version. I have spoken to several publishers who are skeptical, and I think that the Wii U will see a lower level of third party support than the Wii did, unless sales materially improve. If I’m wrong, I’ll admit it, but without third party titles, Nintendo will not generate its customary levels of royalties, and losses or break even could become the norm.

“Many of you point out that the 3DS is selling better than the DS at a similar point. That’s true, but the DS was always profitable, and the 3DS is not. Also, the DS saw sales go from 8.8 million units in its first four quarters to 18.0 million its next four, to 20.2 million in its third full year; I’m pretty confident that the 3DS will not get to 20 million units, but even if it did, it would generate little profit from hardware. Keep in mind that the DS redesign to a lite version boosted sales, and there was little competition for 12 year-old and older from smart phones and tablets. Now, parents who can afford it are opting for Kindles, iPads, and smart phones for their teenagers, and the more casual of those are perfectly happy playing Angry Birds and putting their DS or 3DS into a drawer.

“The important point is that if 3DS sales level off at 15 million and Wii U sales level off at 8 – 10 million, software sales will be much lower than they were in the past. If Nintendo doesn’t make a profit on hardware, they can’t afford to cut prices further. If they do cut price, it will likely occur as their manufacturing costs come down, but I don’t expect big hardware profits in the foreseeable future. They are stuck with software profits, and at current sales levels, they are unlikely to make an overall profit from software.

“That’s it, not trolling, but that is my reasoning.”

About the author

Alex's early adoration for Nintendo began with a Yellow Game Boy and a copy of Donkey Kong Land. This developed over the years, later peaking when he hid in his room to play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time one Christmas. Nowadays, his enthusiasm is shared through Nintendo Insider, a place in which he can document his thoughts regarding the big N.

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