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Peanuts and Charlie Brown are for sale

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US 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 per cent. It comes three months after US insurance company MetLife 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 US 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 in 12-month earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, the people added. They declined to comment on the expected deal valuation.

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

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 US 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 passed away 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 US 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. (Reuters)