Hasbro profit beats, Marvel lineup to power 2018

(Reuters) - Toymaker Hasbro Inc HAS.O reported a huge profit beat despite a surprise drop in quarterly sales, with the company expected to gain this year from a strong line-up of toys linked to Marvel's movie franchises.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

The company’s shares were up 6 percent at $99.94 by midday on Wednesday, recovering from premarket losses.

The company cited softer demand of Star Wars toys for the drop in sales in the holiday quarter, with some analysts wondering if there was fatigue in the Star Wars brand.

The long gap between the release of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and Force Friday, the day it launches Star Wars toys, hurt sales, Chief Executive Brian Goldner said.

Goldner, however, looked to quell the concern by saying that the company was partnering with Walt Disney Co DIS.N to release toys closer to movie openings.

For example, Disney’s next Star Wars movie, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is slated to be in theaters in May, with toys expected to be on shelves in April.

“I thought the lineup for Marvel was among the strongest we’ve ever seen. And therefore, it really impacts the fact that I think our lineup for the year is among the strongest we’ve ever seen,” Goldner said.

Some of the Marvel releases this year include “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Black Panther”.

Profit during the quarter was boosted as sales at the company’s high-margin entertainment and licensing segment, which licenses out Hasbro characters to movie studios, more than tripled to $56.8 million.

“Profitability was better than expected despite a soft topline because of higher licensing revenue in its high margin entertainment and licensing segment,” UBS analyst Arpine Kocharyan said. “It basically saved the quarter.”

The maker of My Little Pony and Nerf guns earned $2.30 per share excluding items in its fourth quarter, beating the average analyst estimate of $1.80, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue fell 2.1 percent to $1.6 billion, while analysts had expected it to rise to $1.72 billion. Still, Hasbro ended the year with higher sales than rival Mattel MAT.O, the first time since 1993.

Net revenue from the company’s partner brands unit, which includes toys based on movie franchises, fell 21 percent to $342.9 million.

Net loss attributable to the company of $5.3 million, or 4 cents per share, in the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, due to a $296.5 million charge related to the U.S. tax overhaul.

Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty