Pokemon cards inspire different kind of trading

Topps shares rise 24% as fad is expected to send sales higher

October 26, 1999|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN STAFF

Maybe they learned it from their kids.

Wall Street traders caught the Pokemon buzz yesterday, swapping shares of the Topps Co. Inc. with elementary-school vigor amid word that the company's sales in Pokemon products could be twice what was anticipated.

After Topps released estimates that its Pokemon sales could reach $100 million this fiscal year, investors ran the price of Topps' shares up $2, or nearly 24 percent, to a closing price of $10.50 on the Nasdaq exchange.

The only things missing were the tennis shoes and the binders.

"Consumers clearly are interested in Pokemon more than the vendors can keep up with it," said John Taylor, an analyst for Arcadia Investment Corp.

"They blew through their initial shipments of Topps cards."

The New York-based candy and trading card company makes a line of cards featuring the characters of Pokemon, a Nintendo Co. video game that has spawned a top-rated television show and scores of successful consumer products. Topps will release a Pokemon lollipop next month, with a new line of trading cards to coincide with the Nov. 12 opening of a feature-length movie.

If Topps sells $100 million worth of Pokemon products for the fiscal year ending Feb. 26, the phenomenon will have produced more revenue for the company than it draws from its entire product line during a typical quarter.

"We are very pleased," said Topps Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Arthur T. Shorin.

Not everyone is certain that Topps is sitting on a Pokemon-fueled fortune. While the company distributes cards depicting Pokemon characters, the Topps cards are not the ones that have the nation's preadolescents aflutter.

Most of the playground dealing is done with a series of cards produced by Wizards of the Coast that can be used to play a Pokemon card game. Topps is licensed to produce trading cards related to the game, not the original Pokemon cards that most children would recognize.

Sometimes consumers are confused, said Don Betz, manager of Jay's Sports Connection in Timonium. He keeps a sign near the Topps cards explaining the difference to prevent disappointment.

"It happens about once with every box -- we get a little kid who comes back with tears in his eyes saying it wasn't what he wanted," said Betz. "I think Topps is going to get a lot of returns."

For every box of Topps cards that his store sells, Betz estimates that he sells 40 or more boxes of the Wizards of the Coast cards.

But he was out of both kinds yesterday. He said the Topps lollipops will arrive soon.

"We figured we'd get some just to have some Pokemon products in the store," he said. "People want it."

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