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Activision Blizzard Beats Profit Forecast but Expects Weak Sales This Year

And Wall Street says "no way" to weak 2015 forecasts.

Activision Blizzard said today that its holiday quarter was better than it had forecasted, with profits of $438 million, or 94 cents per share, on sales of $2.21 billion. Wall Street was expecting earnings per share of 88 cents, on sales of $2.24 billion.

Activision shares plunged 8 percent after hours as the company warned that weakened foreign currencies and a decline in big game launches versus last year, would negatively affect its 2015 outlook. It now expects $640 million in sales this quarter, versus Wall Street’s latest estimate of $777 million.

For the full fiscal year, which ended in December, sales rose 11 percent over the previous year to $4.81 billion. Activision forecasted that its 2015 sales will be well below that, at $4.4 billion.

The company said its best-known shooter game franchise, Call of Duty, has crossed $11 billion in retail sales since 2003. A reboot of the series’ formula, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, launched in in November. Activision said the game was the top global console game, but did not disclose exact sales.

Also not disclosed were sales of its new-IP shooter, Destiny, which launched in September. Instead, the company said Destiny has tallied 16 million “registered users,” although it is possible to have more than one user registered on the same single copy of the game.

Of note is that more than nine million people have signed up to test a beta version of Heroes of the Storm, subsidiary Blizzard Entertainment’s long-awaited answer to the online free-to-play behemoth League of Legends. On a call with investors, Activision executives said they expected only “modest returns” from the game in 2015.

Along with the holiday-quarter earnings, the company said its board had approved a two-year stock buyback program to repurchase up to $750 million worth of stock from shareholders. A separate cash dividend of 23 cents per share will be paid out to shareholders at the end of the current quarter in March.

Digital sales rose 94 percent in the holiday quarter compared to the same quarter a year prior, to $685 million — nearly a third of the total. For the full year 2014, digital accounted for 46 percent of total sales, versus 36 percent in 2013.

Competitor EA recently reported that digital sales had started to overtake retail in the past 12 months. Take-Two Interactive, meanwhile, said on Tuesday that only 22 percent of its sales came from digital channels.

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