Waiting on a Hero at Marvel

Most days, I really want to own Marvel Entertainment (NYSE: MVL  ) . Today isn't one of them. Why? Because as of yesterday, Marvel vice chairman Peter Cuneo had liquidated roughly 57% of his ownership stake in the company.

Officially, a spokesperson told me that Cuneo, who is 62, sold to diversify his portfolio. That of course makes sense. Except that his only remaining stake is 640,000 options to buy shares, the underlying exercise price for which wasn't mentioned in the latest filing with the SEC.

My problem isn't so much with Cuneo's lack of direct holdings as it is with the timing of the sale. Seriously, why now? Marvel is doing as well as it ever has. Ghost Rider, starring Nicholas Cage, is due in February, and the trailer presents what may be a decent box-office earner. Meanwhile, Spider-Man 3, which is due in May, looks spectacular -- perhaps the best of an already-great series.

What's more, Marvel will have Robert Downey Jr. perfectly cast in the role of troubled industrialist Tony Stark for Iron Man, which will be Marvel's first independently produced film, due in May 2008. The Incredible Hulk will follow shortly thereafter.

And Marvel continues to produce cash; $71.6 million in owner earnings over the trailing 12 months alone. (Owner earnings equal net income, depreciation, and amortization minus capital expenditures.) Mix in more than $136 million in deferred revenues from a new toy deal with Hasbro (NYSE: HAS  ) and upfront licensing payments for Spidey 3, and the business begins to look greener than the Hulk at his angriest.

So why the sale? Why now? We may never know. But I'm willing to wait a month or two to be sure that there's nothing I've missed in my evaluation of the stock. The truth remains that Marvel's business is ever-shifting and entirely dependent on the whims of fickle consumers. Cuneo, who enters this weekend $24 million richer, knows that better than most.

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Fool contributorTim Beyers, ranked 1,669 out of 12,621 inMotley Fool CAPS, still counts Spidey as his favorite character in the Marvel Universe, though Iron Man earns a nod, too. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. Get the skinny on which stocks he owns by checking Tim's Foolprofile. The Motley Fool'sdisclosure policyis super-powered.


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