Marvel expects 'Spidey 3' boost

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Marvel Entertainment Inc. reported first-quarter earnings Tuesday that one analyst called "stellar" as the company's Spider-Man joint venture with Sony Corp. outperformed Wall Street's expectations.

During a conference call with analysts, Marvel studio head David Maisel said the company's first "owned" movies -- "Iron Man" and "Incredible Hulk" -- are set for release May 2 and June 13, 2008, respectively.

Marvel earned $46.8 million in the first quarter, up from $17.5 million last year on revenue that climbed from $90.1 million a year ago to $151.4 million.

In Marvel's core business of licensing its stable of super-hero characters, revenue lept from $39.6 million a year ago to $98.9 million, with Spider-Man contributing $56.9 million.

SMH Capital analyst David Miller said the "stellar" top line number of $151.4 million easily beat his predicted $102.2 million, and he seemed particularly enthusiastic about Marvel's future in toys.

While the toy operation brought in sales of $25 million during the quarter, down slightly from last year, the real earnings power of that unit doesn't kick in until the current quarter, he said. Informal checks of several large stores, he said, already show strong sales of toys related to "Spider-Man 3" (pictured).

Marvel's publishing unit, where printed comic books reside, saw revenue of $27.5 million, up from $23.9 million last year with strong sales of the final two issues of "Civil War" being a primary contributor this time around.

While Marvel's first-quarter results clearly beat expectations, the company did not boost its full-year 2007 guidance, a possible reason why investors forced shares fractionally lower Tuesday to $29.40.

The stock has traded between $17.20-$30.95 during the past year.
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