Comic situation

Marvel stock riding Spidey high

Shares of Marvel Entertainment Inc. have been on a good run ahead of the much-anticipated release of "Spider-Man 3" this week, and many on Wall Street have struck bullish tones on the company's outlook.

The stock last week came close to its 52-week high of $30.95 and has been well above its year low of $17.20 for a while.

But is there more upside for the superhero stock or is the run over?

Wall Street ob-servers have ex-pressed their views since the latest quarterly earnings release from Marvel in late February, and they have been mainly positive.

Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Michael Kelman said Marvel's stock decline after the results news was due to a slight reduction in 2007 guidance and presented a buying opportunity as the change was simply driven by a revised tax assumption.

Kelman also called 2007 "a year that should see (Marvel's) earnings more than double 2006 results." In addition, longer-term, "significant earnings growth is achievable through the release of its proprietary film slate," according to the analyst.

Earlier this month, Sanders Morris Harris analyst David Miller boosted Marvel shares several percentage points in one day with a report that reiterated his "buy" rating and a $34 price target, while raising his second-quarter earnings estimate.

Miller cited "extremely robust volume thus far in the wholesale channel for Spider-Man-related toys manufactured by Hasbro" for his increased estimate.

"Informal checks at select Southern California toy retailers reveal that unit sales for Hasbro's new Spider-Man toy line are pacing approximately 10% ahead of the same benchmark achieved at this point in 2004," when "Spider-Man 2" was released, he added.

As a result, Miller raised his second-quarter, toy-related revenue expectation by $5 million to $45 million.

Lehman Bros. analyst Eric Handler a few weeks ago said he views Marvel's transition "into a more diversified media company positively" with the 2008 release of its first in-house-produced feature film being "a game-changing event that could substantially enhance earnings."

Whatever Wall Street observers' current views on Marvel, they will all closely follow the company's second-quarter earnings report next week. After all, it is likely to give the latest insight into the company's business momentum.