Snoopy is up for sale; Iconix looking to sell its majority stake in Peanuts Worldwide LLC

A giant Snoopy and Woodstock float along Manhattan's Sixth Avenue during a Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov 26, 2015.
A giant Snoopy and Woodstock float along Manhattan's Sixth Avenue during a Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov 26, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. brand management company Iconix Brand Group Inc is exploring a sale of its majority stake in Peanuts Worldwide LLC, which owns the rights to cartoon strip characters Snoopy and Charlie Brown, according to people familiar with the matter.

The move sent shares of Iconix up more than 5 percent.

It comes three months after U.S. insurance company MetLife Inc dropped the Peanuts characters it had been using as mascots for more than 30 years - a blow to debt-burdened Iconix.

The characters, which include Lucy, Peppermint Patty and Pigpen, have attracted the interest of Chinese companies as well as other investors keen to snap up U.S. media and licensing assets, the people said this week.

Created by Charles Schulz and licensed in over 100 countries, the characters generate about US$30 million (S$42.3 million) in 12-month earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation, the people added. They declined to comment on the expected deal valuation.

Besides Peanuts, Iconix is also looking to sell its Strawberry Shortcake brand, which is based on a character that rose to fame in the 1980s as a doll for young girls, the people said. They asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential.

The New York-based company is working with investment bank Guggenheim Partners LLC on an auction process to sell the brands, the people added, cautioning that there was no certainty that any deal would occur.

Iconix did not respond to a request for comment, while Guggenheim declined to comment. Iconix shares jumped 5.2 per cent at US$10.36 on the news in New York on Tuesday (Jan 31) afternoon, giving the company a market capitalisation of close to US$600 million.

While MetLife will stop flying blimps featuring Snoopy this year, Peanuts has agreements with brands such as chocolate maker Nestle SA, stationery company Hallmark Cards Inc, and retailer Zara, according to a regulatory filing by Iconix.

In 2015, Twenty-First Century Fox Inc released The Peanuts Movie, which was nominated for a Golden Globe award and grossed US$246 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo, a website that tracks the revenue that movies generate.

Peanuts' largest international market is Japan, where a new Snoopy museum opened last year, according to the Iconix filing. The company renewed a long-standing contract to air the popular Peanuts holiday TV specials on U.S. network ABC in 2014 for five years.

Initially called Li'l Folks, the comic strip was renamed Peanuts in 1950, when it became syndicated in seven newspapers, according to the Charles M Schulz Museum website. Schulz died in 2000.

Iconix, which also owns clothing brand Joe Boxer and outdoor wear brand London Fog, purchased an 80 per cent stake in Peanuts in 2010 from U.S. media company E.W. Scripps Co in a deal valued at US$175 million.

The remaining 20 per cent in the company is owned by Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates, which is controlled by the Schulz family.

Last year, Iconix said it would help develop and produce a new animated series based on Strawberry Shortcake. Iconix acquired the brand about two years ago for US$105 million from greeting cards maker American Greetings Corp.