King Digital Entertainment’s $150M special dividend wasn’t sweet enough to keep its shares from plummeting 22.7% in early trading today. The mobile game company known for its mega hit Candy Crush Saga touched a new low of $13.65, since going public in March at $22.50, after it reported softer than expected Q2 game sales and slashed its financial forecast for the rest of this year. Candy Crush numbers were especially bitter. Bookings at $361M dropped 16% from Q1. “The company previously warned about the decline, but the extent of the drop caught us off guard, with a dramatic step down in bookings during the latter part of the quarter,” Wedbush Securities’ Michael Pachter says. Other game titles including Farm Heroes couldn’t compensate for the drop, raising anew questions about whether King is a one-hit wonder.
“We’re not happy with the lower than expected gross booking run rate we have been experiencing since the latter part of Q2,” CEO Riccardo Zacconi told analysts. “But we’re executing on…strategic steps to leverage the massive audience we have built.”
What happened? King suggested that game sales may have been hurt by the World Cup — which seems to have become an all-purpose excuse for anyone with soft sales in June and July. “You can’t really say if X amount of people went and watched the World Cup rather than play our games,” CFO Hope Cochran says. “But what you do see is strong correlation between a lot of activity in January and less activity in June.” Cowen and Co’s Doug Creutz adds that “the wild success of Glu’s Kim Kardashian: Hollywood (and to a lesser extent, the performance of Zynga’s FarmVille2: Country Escape) contributed to the shorfall.”
King execs say that they remain optimistic: In Q4 the company will introduce Candy Crush Soda and launch Candy Crush in China. The special dividend “demonstrates our confidence in our cash generation,” Cochran says. Execs, directors and other insiders who own about 80% of the shares also underscored their faith by extending the lock up period, during which they can’t sell their shares following the IPO, to an unspecified date after Q4. “This gives management a chance to prove that they can ‘get it right’ before asking investors to purchase more shares from insiders,” Creutz says.
That wasn’t enough for Barclays Capital’s Christopher Merwin. He downgraded King to “equal weight” from “overweight,” and lowered his target price for the stock by 33% to $16.00. Although the company lowered sales projections for the second half of 2014, “we still lack visibility into next year.” He also fears that King shares will be hit when the lock up period ends and insiders begin to sell some of their holdings.