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The Force Is With Hasbro: Star Wars Helps Boost Profit, Dividend Payout

By Eric Volkman – Feb 20, 2016 at 5:31PM

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The insanely popular movie franchise helps lift the company's results -- but for how long?

A short time ago, in the galaxy of toys not so very far away, Hasbro (HAS -0.69%) was triumphant. The company posted encouraging Q4 and fiscal 2015 results in large part because of toys connected with the recently released Star Wars film, The Force Awakens.

In addition to being one of the highest-grossing movies of all time, The Force Awakens is also a great driver of merchandise sales. The franchise in general, and the latest movie in particular, gave a big jolt to Hasbro's results and helped keep its dividend ripe. But can that propel the company going forward?

Coming soon, to a toy box near you
The Force Awakens -- the first proper Star Wars theatrical release in over a decade-- made its franchise the toy line success of 2015.

It was the top toy property for the year, according to industry researcher The NPD Group, raking in over $700 million in total sales. It was also a big reason for the 6.7% year-over-year growth in total toy sales in 2015, the highest percentage improvement in more than a decade.

And of course, all those light sabers and scale model X-Wing fighters flying off the shelves put some zip in Hasbro's results.

For Q4 -- the quarter when the movie was released, not to mention the one spanning the holiday season -- the company's revenue rose by 13% to nearly $1.5 billion, while net profit advanced by 3% to $176 million ($1.39 per diluted share). Both results trumped the average analyst expectations.

For the full year, bottom-line improvement was more pronounced, rising by nearly 9% over 2014's tally to reach $452 million. This was on the back of revenue that crept up 3% to $4.4 billion.

Better fundamentals make for stronger cash flow. Hasbro's free cash flow saw a robust 20% increase for 2015, providing plenty of room for the company's habitual once-per-year dividend raise.

Concurrent to its earnings release, the toy maker announced an 11% lift in the quarterly payout to $0.51 per share. The new dividend is going to be paid on May 16 to Hasbro shareholders of record as of May 2.

Of mice and merch
The Force Awakens was a monster smash that lifted every company associated with it. Look at Disney -- its studio entertainment division (essentially, the company's film operations) recorded a sharp 86% spike in The Mouse's fiscal Q1 2016.

Disney has five divisions; the runner-up in the percentage growth race, consumer products and interactive media, posted a "mere" 23% improvement for the quarter.

So Star Wars was obviously the center of the entertainment and toy universe at the end of last year. But can Hasbro grow effectively without one of the franchise's movies in general release?

That's a genuine concern. Combined, the two company product categories (out of a total of four) that lacked Star Wars-themed merchandise were stagnant in terms of net revenue growth in Q4 and saw a 9% decline for the full year when compared with 2014.

Is this enough to be bearish on the stock? Not necessarily -- the company has been consistently profitable over the past few years, after all, and that new dividend is attractive (it currently yields nearly 3%). Hasbro also has plenty of strong brands, not least of which is another sturdy Disney franchise, the animated hit Frozen.

But it would be nice if the company could find more long-term, strong, and sustainable growth drivers. The laser whoosh! from the Star Wars saga really energized the latest set of results, but that might only be a short-term special effect.

Eric Volkman owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends both Hasbro and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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