Borrowing a page from Mark Twain, it seems like the rumors of Nintendo‘s (OTCMKTS:NTDOY) demise have been greatly exaggerated. And holders of NTDOY stock can thank the Switch gaming console for the recovery.
The game maker’s previous video game console was a disappointment. With the Wii U, introduced in 2012 as a follow-up to the iconic Wii (which debuted in 2006), investors had expected the same level of success, leading many of them to wonder if Nintendo had become a has-been. Over the course of 2012, 2013 and 2014, NTDOY stock was stuck in neutral.
As it turns out, however, those fears were greatly exaggerated. The company’s newest console — Switch, which debuted in early 2017 — has reached the 20-million-unit sales mark faster than any other console has in the modern era. Game on.
And that’s saying something, all things considered.
Aside from being the brand that had let gamers and investors down just a few years prior, the timing of the Switch’s launch was off, coming shortly after the PlayStation4 Pro from Sony (NYSE:SNE) came to the market but only a few months before the newest Xbox from Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) would hit store shelves. Perhaps worse, the Switch wasn’t released at the beginning of a holiday shopping season.
Yet, none of that mattered.
Strong Switch Sales Silence Naysayers
If nothing else the past couple of years have been confusing ones for owners of Nintendo stock. Switch unit sales were never not impressive, on both a relative and an absolute basis. Yet, commentaries often painted a grim picture.
GamesIndustry.biz’s Christopher Dring penned the headline “Is Nintendo Switch in trouble?” in July of this year, and though he felt confident the company could find its way out of the weeds, the October lead from Bloomberg’s Yuji Nakamura and Pavel Alpeyev — “Nintendo’s Switch Struggles to Keep Up With Sony’s Older PS4” — was decidedly discouraging. Business Insider’s Kevin Webb just last month wrote “Nintendo had a record-setting Black Friday weekend, but Switch sales are still lower than expected after a slow year,” casting a shadow of doubt on the company’s efforts.
In the meantime, Nintendo broke the aforementioned speed record, with the Switch console becoming the first to hit the 20-million mark in less than two years’ time (for the current generation of all consoles anyway), despite the fact that the Xbox and PS4 are still going strong. Last week alone was the best-ever week for Switch in the U.S.
For students of the stock market though, the most interesting aspect of Nintendo’s surprise success is how it pulled it together.
Razors and Blades
A classic business school model is the one-time sale of a razor and recurring purchases of razor blades. One fuels the other.
Video games and the consoles they’re played on plug into the same business model. Gamers will purchase a console if they’re confident enough that affordable, quality game titles will be produced in a steady stream into the future. But, at the same time, ownership of a particular console can induce sales of games compatible with that device.
It wasn’t an overwhelming complaint, though it wasn’t an uncommon one either — until the latter part of this year, Switch’s game library wasn’t as deep or wide as those of rival consoles like the Xbox and the PS4. Options available online via the Switch console were also lacking.
That headwind stopped blowing early this month, when the highly touted Super Smash Bros. Ultimate went on sale. Counting downloads and purchases of the cartridge version, the 5 million copies sold in its first three days of availability make it the fastest-selling Switch game.
Yes, it’s arguable that at least some Switch consoles were sold expressly to gain access to that one game. Now that gamers own the console though, adding other Switch games to the library makes sense, not to mention fueling NTDOY stock’s momentum.
Bottom Line for Nintendo Stock
As for the impact the renewed mania surrounding Switch and its games may have on Nintendo stock, it’s not yet helped much. Shares are down nearly 45% since their March peak, reaching another new 52-week low just days ago. Investors aren’t impressed.
They arguably should be though, and not just because the fourth quarter could be an unexpectedly strong one on the heels of broken records. With the Switch console in the hands of so many more gamers now than at this point last year, sales of individual games should be robust into 2019 and beyond.
Bolstering that argument is the company’s estimate that worldwide total sales of Switch will reach 38 million by March of the coming year.
With that kind of a new base of actively used consoles in place, the stage is set for at least a couple more years of strong game sales that investors aren’t currently giving NTDOY stock much credit for.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can follow him on Twitter, at @jbrumley.