Star Wars powers Hasbro's strongest growth in nearly five years

(Reuters) - Hasbro Inc HAS.O reported its biggest rise in quarterly revenue in nearly five years, handily beating analysts' estimates, driven by demand for toys based on the "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and "Jurassic World" movies.

The toymaker’s shares rose as much as 2.4 percent in morning trading on Monday.

Revenue from toys targeted at boys, including action figures based on the two top-grossing movies of 2015, surged 35 percent in the fourth quarter. The category accounts for about 40 percent of the company’s total revenue.

Hasbro expects sales from Star Wars merchandise this year to match 2015 levels as home entertainment versions of “The Force Awakens” launch in spring and “Rogue One”, a Star Wars-based film with new characters, releases in December, Chief Executive Brian Goldner said.

Industry-wide sales of Star Wars-licensed merchandise totaled about $700 million in the United States in 2015, according to research firm NPD Group.

Rival Mattel Inc MAT.O posted a surprise rise in quarterly sales last week, helped by demand for Star Wars-based Hot Wheels toys such as the "Millennium Falcon Starship".

Bloomberg reported on Thursday that Mattel and Hasbro had held talks about a possible merger.

But there is skepticism that the toymakers, who have declined to comment on the report, will announce a deal as it is likely to invite heavy antitrust scrutiny.

Toys targeted at girls remained a weak spot in an otherwise strong quarter for Hasbro, with sales in the category declining 17 percent, hurt by weak demand for its robotic toy, Furby.

However, the sales decline in the category slowed from the prior two quarters due to "modest initial shipments" for Disney Princess dolls, which Hasbro makes under a contract with Walt Disney Co DIS.N.

Mattel lost the lucrative contract for the dolls, based on Disney films such as “Frozen” and “Cinderella”, to Hasbro in 2014.

The net income attributable to Hasbro rose 3.4 percent to $175.8 million, or $1.39 per share, beating the average analyst estimate of $1.30 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Net revenue jumped 12.8 percent to $1.47 billion, sailing past analysts’ expectations of $1.37 billion. Excluding the impact of a strong dollar, revenue surged 23 percent.

Hasbro also raised its quarterly dividend to 51 cents per share from 46 cents.

The company’s shares were up 1.5 percent at $75.18 in late morning trading. Up to Friday’s close, the stock had risen 10 percent this year.

Reporting by Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru; Editing by Kirti Pandey