The new Marvel
Take a look first at the top line: revenues. Marvel grew its sales 53% over the past year's quarter, to $87.4 million vs. $57.2 million. Sales growth is an important figure to follow for all great growth stocks. Companies virtually have to exhibit top-line growth over the years to make their investors rich. My next month's top stock selection for our Motley Fool Stock Advisor -- revealed on Friday to subscribers -- sports sales growth of 80%, not bad in a supposedly weak economy.
(By the way, the economy is not weak. It's been growing for more than a year now at a decent clip. And corporate profits, which rose about 14% for the December quarter, look like they'll have risen about 15% for this quarter. But sssshhhhhh! Don't tell financial journalists these things -- as long as the nearly ubiquitous negative headlines continue, we get better prices at which to buy our stocks!)
Marvel's sales growth sounds great for the quarter, but looking deeper you'll see that it actually expects lower revenues for the full year. Sales in 2002 were $299 million, whereas the company now expects a top line of about $230 million for 2003. Does that mean Marvel's not a growth stock? Keep reading -- it depends on what you want to be growing!
We're going to talk in a minute about two numbers not revealed in the quarterly statement, but I want first to focus on one other revealing number in Marvel's quarter. As I mentioned in yesterday's part one, it's profit margins.
You ready for a new headline? Marvel is now one of the most profitable companies in America.
Its first-quarter net income of $41.1 million, measured as a percentage of sales, comes to a net margin of 47%, which is another way of saying that 47 cents on every dollar of sales are profit. How was this amazing margin arrived at? Management began exiting the toy business a year ago, which may sound crazy since superheroes and action figures go together like leopards and spots. The company is still getting paid for action figures, mind you. But rather than be a low-margin toy business, Marvel is now primarily outsourcing toy production, and just getting paid merchandise licensing fees instead. Which are practically pure profit. Among business management decisions made in this country in 2002, Marvel's decision to exit the toy business stands out as one of the better ones. In fact, if you take a look at the company's numbers press release, of its $49.9 million in licensing sales, more than $48 million of that is operating income.
So, what is growing for Marvel is its profits and cash flow, which are now expected to exceed $80 million for this year. And I have to believe with a big green Hulk of a movie coming later this summer, the company will generate better numbers than that. I'll eat my Fool's cap -- or at least chomp on a bell or two -- if this company doesn't exceed $80 million in net income here in 2003.
Two key numbers not revealed in the quarterly report
What don't you see in Marvel's quarterly statement? Two important numbers. The first is the receipts for X2: X-Men United, which just scored the fourth-best opening-weekend box office of any movie of all time. Think about that. The only movies that had better openings in history were two Harry Potter flicks and -- who else? -- another Marvel offering (Spider-Man).
Are the X-Men known and beloved worldwide like Harry Potter, are they on the same cultural level as Star Wars? I wouldn't say so, and yet X-Men just outdid Star Wars, and even Lord of the Rings, in its opening weekend. The success of X2, which will make more than a billion in box office plus DVD sales worldwide, is a key number not included in Marvel's report yesterday.
The second number not documented yesterday may seem like a curveball, so, you ready? Whoooosh!!!! It's the number of analysts following the company. You can find that number for any company right here on Fool.com in our Quotes & Data section. If you quote the ticker MVL, notice the link on that page for "Estimates." Click on "Estimates" and you'll see this page, which shows that only four analysts have put out estimates on this company. Another reason I'm bullish.
A colleague of mine forwarded me a note from hedge fund manager and Street.com founder Jim Cramer, who is quoted this week as saying, "When I was on the [Marvel] conference call, I was thinking, 'What the heck is this stock only doing at $20?'"
We thank him for noticing... even if it's at a level four times higher than our Fool subscribers got in! But follow-on commentary and follow-on money pushes stocks higher.
So let's reset: You have high-profile intellectual property in the process of earning literally billions of dollars in movie and DVD sales this year, and the owning company earning a percentage of that in pure profit, which will grow the company's earnings more than threefold over last year. You have a high probability of continued success (The Hulk on June 20, then, of course, Spider-Man2 on July 2 of next year, and we haven't even talked about the new TV shows). You have a stock that has more than tripled over the past year. All of this, and only four analysts see fit to cover this company?
With all these factors going for it, I would buy Marvel today at $20 a share and plan to hold at least two years. At 12 times this year's cash flow, I think you will see at least a 50% return. You have to acknowledge the possibility -- the probability, perhaps -- that superhero movies will wind up glutted and lose some of their relative appeal. At the same time, you have to acknowledge the timeless draw of action and fantasy, and recognize that Marvel is brilliantly positioned to deliver these two things for a long time.
Further, the lack of institutional coverage has meant a lack of institutional purchases, and with the company raising its sales and earnings estimates this year and now trading at $20, I would expect the sheer supply and demand to push Marvel stock up further.
For further reading: This excellent post compares Marvel directly to Pixar (do you see the parallels?), Pixar
My Fool Mailbox: As a result of yesterday's article, where I mentioned looking for successful and profitable small caps below $10 a share, I got a note from missash in our Community who wrote, "I thought it was the Fool's policy to not cover stocks at $5 or less... perhaps I do not understand the Fool stand on stocks $5 or less." Our initial cost was in fact above $5, but I did want to make it clear that the Fool avoids investment in companies below $100 million in market cap.