UPDATE 2-Iconix to buy Peanuts comic strip in $175 mln deal

Tue Apr 27, 2010 12:55pm EDT

* Says deal is in partnership with Schulz family

* Iconix to fund its 80 pct share with existing cash

* Says deal to add $0.12-$0.15/shr to earnings annually

* Q1 adj EPS $0.36 vs est $0.31, rev up 42 pct

* Raises 2010 adj EPS view to $1.35-$1.40 vs est $1.29 (Recasts; updates with first-quarter results, analyst comments)

By Shobhana Chadha

BANGALORE, April 27 (Reuters) - Iconix Brand Group Inc (ICON.O) said it will take over licensing of E.W. Scripps Co's (SSP.N) syndicated comic strips as well as rights to the Peanuts brand, in partnership with the family of cartoonist Charles Schulz.

The $175 million deal will see the acquirers forming a joint venture to hold the assets, with the New York-based fashion house holding 80 percent of the subsidiary and the Schulz family holding the remainder.

Besides ownership of Peanuts, the JV will also hold licensing rights to United Features Syndicate characters such as Dilbert and Fancy Nancy.

"The deal may not necessarily transform Iconix but it will certainly diversify the portfolio of the company," Lazard Capital Markets analyst Todd Slater said.

Iconix, which will fund its share of the acquisition with its existing cash balance, said the deal is expected to generate about $75 million in royalty revenue and add 12 cents to 15 cents a share to its earnings, annually.

The company had said last August it planned to spend $300 million to $600 million over 18 months on acquisitions. [ID:nBNG498423]

Iconix owns and licenses brands including Candie's, Joe Boxer and Badgley Mischka, to retailers like Target Corp (TGT.N), Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) and Kohl's Corp (KSS.N).

Separately on Tuesday, Iconix posted a first-quarter profit ahead of Wall Street estimates, helped by its direct-to-retail strategy and strong organic growth.

The company also raised its fiscal 2010 forecast, mainly to account for the deal.

It now sees revenue in the range of $305 million to $315 million, a $45 million rise over both ends of its earlier forecast range. The company expects to earn $1.35 to $1.40 a share, up from its earlier forecast of $1.25 to $1.30.

Analysts on average were expecting earnings of $1.29 a share, on revenue of $266.3 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

OPENS NEW DOORS

The iconic Peanuts comic strip -- home to such beloved characters as Snoopy and Charlie Brown -- was created by Schulz in 1950, and has gone on to become one of the widely syndicated comic strips in history.

The brand is licensed in over 40 countries and has annual retail sales of over $2 billion. Schulz died in 2000 at the age of 77.

"We believe Peanuts large global footprint and broad licensing relationships will also open up new doors for our existing portfolio of brands and future acquisitions," Iconix Chief Executive Neil Cole said in a statement.

However, Iconix said costs associated with the Peanuts brand would be higher than its existing brands, because the Schulz heirs will continue to earn money from an existing revenue share agreement, separate from their ownership stake in the JV.

Iconix, whose recent deal saw it agree to launch fashion brands with popstar Madonna, earned $24.8 million, or 33 cents a share, in the first quarter, on revenue of $71.7 million.

Excluding items, the company earned 36 cents a share, compared with analysts' expectations of 31 cents a share.

Iconix shares were trading up 2 percent at $18.80 on Nasdaq, while Scripps was up 2 percent at $10.31 on the New York Stock Exchange. (Reporting by Sakthi Prasad and Shobhana Chadha in Bangalore; Editing by Rupert Winchester, Anne Pallivathuckal, Anthony Kurian)

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