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Weak yen to buy Nintendo time, for now

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News of a weak sales outlook clobbered Nintendo's stock on Thursday, as investors grew increasingly pessimistic over the gaming console maker's ability to deliver a new blockbuster product, but analysts say it might be too early to write off the company yet.

Nintendo's "core business is in bad shape and worsening," said CLSA analyst Atul Goyal in a note. The biggest worry is the decline in sales of its 3DS portable gaming console and software, which have "kept Nintendo from large losses," he said.

Nintendo halved its full year operating profit target to 20 billion yen ($169.6 million) late Wednesday, citing weak sales of its 3DS console. Analysts on average had expected 36.6 billion yen, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Shares tumbled on Thursday, down 7.32 percent at mid-day.

Sit tight

"[Right now] there's nothing to be done – we just have to wait and hope the next generation consoles will be blockbuster hits," said Barclays analyst Yuki Okishio.

The outlook for the Wii U, which launched in November 2012 and was supposed to be the saving grace product, is dismal.

Wii U hardware and software sales plunged 47 percent and 43 percent on year, respectively, in the third-quarter. Wii U is the "weakest console in the history of Nintendo, and it is getting worse," Goyal said.

The future doesn't look bright given that sales in Japan are a guide for how products will perform overseas. In the third-quarter, 3DS hardware sales in Japan fell by 15 percent on-year.

Weaker yen lifeline till next hit

The "only thing working in Nintendo's favor is a weakening yen," said Goyal. The company generates 73 percent of sales outside of Japan and a weaker yen mechanically increases repatriated profits and sales in yen terms.

Indeed, Nintendo raised its net profit target for this fiscal year ending in March to 30 billion yen from 20 billion yen, "mainly to factor in currency profits", according to Barclays Okishio. The yen has weakened by nearly 14 percent against the U.S. dollar since April 2014.

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At current exchange rates, Nintendo can break-even even if sales continue to fall at the same pace for a few years, according to Okishio.

But, with its two main consoles selling so badly, "full-fledged earnings improvement will have to wait for new hardware releases," said Okishio.

Mystery blockbuster in the pipeline

Nintendo management promised to bounce back to an operating profit of 100 billion yen by the year ending March 2017 with a new blockbuster.

But believing in the company requires blind faith. Nintendo has kept the development of the new console secret, said Okishio; "there is no visibility on the console in development."

Still, it may be premature to write off Nintendo, or even game consoles as a product line.

Strong demand for Sony's Playstation 4, which has shipped 18.5 million units since its launch in November 2013, is evidence there is still a sizeable population of core gamers, mostly in the West, that will buy consoles, he said.