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Activision stock soars after strong results lift gaming gloom

By Malathi Nayak

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Activision Blizzard Inc shares rose as much as 15.6 percent on Friday after its quarterly results trumped analysts' expectations, spurring hopes the largest videogames publisher will outperform a bedraggled industry in 2013.

The shares soared to an intraday peak of $13.94, their highest since November of 2011. In afternoon trading, they were up 11.4 percent at $13.44.

Activision reported higher fourth quarter revenue on Thursday, driven by robust sales of its holiday hits "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" and "Skylanders: Giants."

The company forecast a first-quarter profit above industry analyst targets, guiding to earnings, excluding items, of 10 cents a share compared with an average forecast of about 9.7 cents. Its outlook for 2013 was more conservative, at 80 cents versus the Street's view of 96 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

"They beat by a ton and nobody believes their guidance," analyst Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities said.

"What industry decline?" he asked in an earlier research note.

Activision's peers, however, did not fare as well over the holiday quarter. Its closest rival, Electronic Arts Inc, slashed its fiscal 2013 earnings forecast last week after a weaker-than-expected holiday quarter as the industry struggles with slow demand.

The video game industry has seen revenues drop consistently since last year as more gamers migrate from console gaming to mobile offerings on tablets and smartphones. The performance of high quality tiles such as Activision's "Call of Duty" is being watched closely as a gauge of future demand for the sector.

New game hardware could potentially boost sales in the troubled video game sector, analysts say. Consumers are holding back from buying hardware and software as they wait for rumored next-generation versions of Sony Corp's PlayStation and Microsoft Corp's Xbox, expected later this year.

"Despite the tough market conditions, Activision continues to increase its dominance and profitability, which should ultimately translate into strong market share on next-gen platforms," analyst Colin Sebastian of R.W. Baird said in a research note.

(Reporting By Malathi Nayak. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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