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Hasbro's strong sales prove that reports of industry-wide toy weakness are 'overblown'

Disney character doll sisters, Elsa and Anna of Arendelle, from the Disney movie Frozen.
Catherine Lane | Getty Images
Disney character doll sisters, Elsa and Anna of Arendelle, from the Disney movie Frozen.

It seems that holiday toy sales weren't quite as weak as projected — at least not for Hasbro.

The Rhode Island-based toy company posted better-than-expected earnings on Monday, driven, once again, by demand for its Disney princess and "Frozen" dolls.

The girls category, which features these fashion dolls, grew 52 percent in the fourth quarter and increased 50 percent for the full-year to a record $1.39 billion.

Rival toymaker Mattel lost the lucrative contract for dolls based on Walt Disney's princesses such as Cinderella and Snow White to Hasbro in 2014, and that's been a big blow to their performance.

This category is poised to see more growth in 2017 following the theatrical releases of "Beauty and the Beast" and "My Little Pony."

Analysts had expected more modest gains by the company following a mixed holiday sales forecast by the NPD Group and weak earnings posted by Mattel. However, that sentiment has shifted following Hasbro's beat.

"Despite some shifts to later consumer purchases, we do not view and did not experience the season as different from other years," Brian Goldner, Hasbro's CEO, said during an earnings conference call Monday.

He noted that sales of the 11-pack of Disney princess dolls was one of the company's key items for the holidays.

Shares of the toy company popped more than 15 percent after it reported earnings of $1.64 a share, excluding items, on $1.63 billion in revenue. Wall Street had expected earnings of $1.27 per share on about $1.5 billion in revenue, according to Thomson Reuters.

"Worries over an industry-wide slowdown following weak holiday NPD data and Mattel's recent pre-announce seem overblown," Trevor Young, an analyst at Jefferies wrote in a research note Monday. "Broad-based revenue beat suggests a slowdown in toys may not have impacted all players equally."

While the boys category slipped during the quarter, falling 3 percent, it grew 4 percent for 2016 to $1.85 billion.

Moving forward, Hasbro is poised to see a boost in this category as 2017 marks the release of three Marvel films: "Thor: Ragnarok," "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" and "Spider-Man: Homecoming" as well as "Transformers: The Last Knight."

In addition, "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" is slated for release in December. Star Wars is the number one global toy property, according to NPD Group. Hasbro said that it gained share within the property this year.

Last year's release of "The Force Awakens" pushed "Star Wars" toy sales for Hasbro to almost $500 million. The company said in October that it expected merchandise sales for the franchise to reach a similar level for "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story."

"While Hasbro's global 'Star Wars' revenues declined slightly, we capitalized on the growing franchise driving by both 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' and the December release of 'Rogue One: a Star Wars Story,'" Goldner said.

Goldner expects "Rogue One" sales to continue, noting that the film was released in late December near the end of the quarter. He also noted that the company will be releasing 40th anniversary products to celebrate the 1977 release of "Star Wars: A New Hope."

"I know our fans and collectors are very excited from all of our social scraping and listening," he said. "We really see their excitement around the 40th anniversary and then we'll segue again into a fall event, and head into 'The Last Jedi,' and so again, I think we're set up well for 'Star Wars' this year."

Programming note: Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner is scheduled to appear on CNBC's "Mad Money" at 6 p.m. ET, Monday.