INTERVIEW - Nintendo Wii posts record U.S. sales in Dec

KYOTO, Japan (Reuters) - Japan’s Nintendo Co Ltd said sales of its Wii video game console in the United States hit a record high in December, countering market worries that momentum for the three-year-old machine had peaked.

An employee arranges Nintendo Co's Wii game console at a Yamada Denki electronics retail store in Tokyo January 5, 2010. JREUTERS/Toru Hanai

Nintendo also said its DS handheld game player likely posted record sales in the United States (U.S.) in 2009, and total sales of the portable machine have reached 40 million units in Europe, becoming the top-selling video game hardware ever in the region.

“I think it’s now safe to say the Wii has recovered from slowdown,” Nintendo President Satoru Iwata told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.

“But I’m not sure if it’s prudent to use words like revival and recovery lightly before making absolutely certain we can maintain this momentum. So, I steer clear of such words today,” he said.

Driven by white hot demand for the Wii and DS, Nintendo shares had jumped more than fivehold in two years to October 2007 to become Japan’s third-most valuable company in terms of market capitalisation.

Since then, however, the stock has lost 68 percent as sales of its hardware and game titles showed signs of slowing down.

For Nintendo's quarterly results in recent years and historical share price, click: here

Nintendo sold more than 3 million units of the Wii in the U.S. in December 2009, up sharply from 2.14 million units a year earlier, thanks to a series of strong new game titles such as “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” action game, and a hardware price cut, Iwata said.

Nintendo cut the price of the Wii, which outsells Sony Corp’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Corp’s Xbox 360, by 20 percent in the second half of last year in an effort to breathe vigour back into console sales.

“It’s a combination of factors. Towards December, our software lineup got stronger. Also, the price cut certainly helped, although it is not the sole factor,” Iwata said.

Nintendo launched “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” in November in the U.S., and U.S. sales came to about 4 million units by the end of the year, he said.

On the handheld side, Nintendo’s DS sales in the U.S. likely exceeded 10 million units in 2009, setting a record for annual game hardware sales in the country, Iwata said.

“The DS was launched back in 2004, and sales of that machine hit a record in 2009 in the United States. That is totally different from the conventional sales pattern, in which game gear sales peak in the third year and take a downturn thereafter,” he said.

Before Iwata’s comments, shares in Nintendo closed up 1.4 percent at 22,930 yen, outperforming the Nikkei average, which rose 0.3 percent.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka, editing by Will Waterman, Rupert Winchester and Sharon Lindores