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Marvel stock soars on rev outlook

Comic book co. gets back its Hulk

After months of pessimism, Marvel turned into Mr. Fantastic on Thursday after it issued improved projections for 2006.

Comicbook firm’s stock shot up nearly 10%, to $17.58, after it upped revenue estimates by more than 15%.

Company also revealed that its Marvel Studios arm has reclaimed the rights to the Hulk franchise from Universal.

In November, Marvel had predicted 2006 revenues of $270 million-$320 million, in part because few of the company’s properties were being released as studio pics this year. Since that projection, Sony has pushed back the release date for “Ghost Rider” to 2007, but Marvel still said it was increasing its estimates to the $300 million-$350 million range. Company will release straight-to-vid pic “Ultimate Avengers 2” this year in partnership with Lionsgate.

Marvel Studios chair-CEO Avi Arad said unit had reacquired rights to Hulk pics from U because the latter had not met its deadlines for beginning principal photography on the next Hulk project. U still retained distrib rights on any sequels, while Marvel will control all licenses.

Marvel has previously indicated that it is considering a direct-to-video release for “Hulk 2.” Marvel CEO Peter Cuneo recently said former “The X-Files” star David Duchovny was a front-runner to replace Eric Bana in film’s title role.

But Marvel execs said it’s unlikely Marvel will finance any Hulk sequels — or “Iron Man,” whose rights it reacquired from New Line in November — with its own funds. Marvel received an injection of $525 million in Wall Street money in 2005 as it announced plans for its own slate.

Marvel’s stock spike occurred despite fourth-quarter falloff in revenue from $30 million to $26 million.

In the frame, company took a one-time writedown of $12.5 million on the early termination of a licensing deal with Toy Biz. Marvel is switching over to Hasbro for its toy licensing.

Company also pointed to manufacturing disruptions with Toy Biz that resulted in tie-in sales for “Fantastic Four” coming in lower than expected.

Cuneo described a “transitional year” in which the “business model is changing” because of the development of the slate and more direct-to-video pics, with licensing deemphasized.

Company is developing Captain America and Nick Fury projects for its new slate that Arad said could debut by as early as summer 2008.

Arad also said that “Ghost Rider” was moved from July 2006 to February 2007 to avoid putting the pic in a “traffic jam.” And studio also plans on hiring more production staff in 2007 as slate begins to take shape.

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