If there was a winner among the piles of gifts given to children this Christmas, Barbie certainly wasn't it.
The fashion doll — possibly the best-known player in Mattel Inc.'s stable of products — endured a 13% sales slide during the company's fourth quarter.
"We just didn't sell enough Barbie dolls," Mattel Chief Executive Bryan G. Stockton said Friday in a conference call with analysts.
Several other brands from the El Segundo toy maker also fared poorly. Fisher-Price, whose lineup focuses on infants and young children, also suffered a 13% revenue plunge. Hot Wheels slid 8%.
Mattel, the world's largest toy company, emerged from the holiday quarter with net income up 23% to $1.07 a share, or $369.2 million, from 87 cents a share, or $306.5 million, a year earlier.
But the fourth quarter of 2012 had been dampened by a massive litigation charge, making it easier to beat in 2013. Analysts had expected Mattel to reap a profit of $1.19 a share last quarter.
The toy giant's revenue also missed the mark, declining 6% to $2.11 billion and falling short of Wall Street's projections for $2.37 billion. Inventory levels are higher than they were a year earlier. Of the top 50 toys in the U.S. last year, 12 were Mattel brands, down from 14 the year before, according to research from the NPD Group.
Mattel even failed to meet its own expectations, Stockton acknowledged.
Investors reacted by dumping Mattel's stock, which closed Friday at $37.84, down $5.17 or 12%.
The holiday season was unusual in several ways: Foot traffic into toy stores fell, while online researching and purchasing grew, with Cyber Monday sales up 16%, Stockton said. Consumers went hunting for discounts, with many waiting until the last minute to take advantage of bargains.
Mattel's product innovation and marketing programs weren't strong enough to drive growth in core categories like dolls and vehicles, "unlike prior years," Stockton said.
"By every account, 2013 was a challenging and transformative year at retail," Stockton said.
Toy sales in the U.S. were down 1% from 2012, according to NPD. Toy expert Jim Silver of TimetoPlayMag.com pegged the decline at 2% to 2.5%.
Most of the 10 largest toy companies had a weak year, starting with "lousy weather" in the spring that depressed sales of outdoor toys, Silver said. And fewer children's movies in 2013 successfully translated into popular toys.
Then came the holiday season, which was the shortest Thanksgiving-to-Christmas period in more than a decade, chopping a full week out of Americans' shopping schedule compared with 2012.
"The consumer was trained by the retailer to wait until the last minute to get great deals," Silver said. "And people bought so late that it was hard to replenish toys once they sold out."
The slow economic recovery didn't help either.
"People were more careful in what they were spending," Silver said.
Sales of action figures and infant and preschool toys declined the most last year — 6% and 4% respectively, according to NPD.
The youth electronics category enjoyed an 18% surge, in part because of strong demand for tablets and the popularity of robotic and interactive toys such as the Zoomer dog and the flying Flutterbye Fairies, according to NPD.
Arts and crafts products rose 8%, plush toys advanced 2%, and building sets were up 1%. In September, the Lego Group said that its revenue for the first half of 2013 increased 13% and that its share of the global toy market had risen to 8.8%, up from 8.6% at the end of 2012.
And despite the decline in Barbie sales, the doll remained one of the country's bestselling toys, along with Disney Princess dolls, Monster High dolls, Nerf products and Star Wars playthings, according to NPD.
Mattel has also seen strength from its American Girl brand, which enjoyed a 3% boost in revenue during the fourth quarter.
The toy giant is looking abroad for better news after gross sales slipped 10% in the U.S. during the period. Full-year sales tripled in Russia and saw a double-digit upswing in China.
"There is solid growth in other emerging and developing markets," Stockton said.
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