Surging comic publisher splits its stock

A correction was made to this article on Mar. 2, 2004.

Gotham-based Marvel Enterprises on Tuesday reported fourth-quarter 2003 net profit of $13.5 million, compared with a loss of around $49 million a year earlier, despite a slight falloff in total sales due to slippage in Spider-Man-based toys and accessories.

Fourth-quarter revenue slid slightly to $85.7 million compared with $86.5 million in the same three-month period in 2002, despite a hefty 45% increase in licensing revenues to $40.9 million.

Company also announced a three-for-two stock split by which shareholders will get an extra stock dividend of one extra share of Marvel common stock for every two shares they hold.

Applauding his company’s big improvement in operating margins (which rose from 27% in 2002 to 48% in 2003), president and CEO Allen Lipson said last year’s results were “a direct reflection of our continued success in building the brand awareness of, and consumer demand for, entertainment projects and consumer products based on our vast library of characters.”

He said splitting the company’s fast-rising stock should broaden the base of potential investors and enhance long-term liquidity in Marvel stock.

Some $45 million in licensing “overages” (gains in excess of minimum guarantees) helped drive home record operating profits for the quarter and full year at Marvel, despite slight waning in income from Spider-Man and the Hulk later in the year.

A decline in toy sales was partly offset by big sales for the Lord of the Rings toy line.

For 2004, company predicts total revenues of $420 million to $440 million, thanks to anticipated toy sales tied in to “Spider-Man 2.” And while operating profits should be up over 2003, net income is expected to come in at between $95 million and $105 million (compared with its 2003 net income of $152 million) due to a higher tax rate.

Marvel’s next release will be Artisan-produced “The Punisher” April 16, followed by the much-anticipated “Spider-Man 2″ on July 2 and New Line’s “Blade 3″ Aug. 12.

Company also said on its earnings call with analysts Tuesday that a third installment of Spider-Man was in development with Sony, with a contemplated release date of 2007.

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