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'Star Wars' merchandise to propel US toy industry to best year since 1999

Demand for Star Wars merchandise is set to propel toy sales growth to a 17-year high, according to NDP.

Toys from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" are sold in the Toys R Us in Times Square. Picture: Getty Images/AFP.

BENGALURU - The Force is with the US toy industry this year.

Demand for _ Star Wars_ merchandise is set to propel toy sales growth to a 17 year-high, according to industry research firm The NPD Group.

Toy sales rose 7.5% in the first half of 2016, pointing to the fastest growth since 1999, the NPD said.

Star Wars toys, the majority of which are produced by Hasbro Inc, was the biggest contributor to the sales growth, with dollar sales for Star Wars toys nearly tripling through June.

"Star Wars is already at $300 million for the year," US toys industry analyst Juli Lennett wrote in the report.

Toy sales typically shoot up in the year-end holiday season.

This year's sales have been fuelled by collectibles, inspired by the rebooted classic Star Wars franchise and a slew of Marvel's superhero films.

Content is increasingly helping drive toy growth as kids get immersed in their favourite characters from the numerous sources such as movies, Netflix or YouTube, Lennett said.

Star Wars sales could be bigger than last year when it totalled $700 million, she added.

Hasbro said in July that Star Wars and Disney's Frozen were the fastest-growing businesses in the quarter ended June 26. The company expects Star Wars merchandise sales of about $500 million this year, roughly the same as last year, helped by _ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story_ scheduled to release in December.

The company said it would begin shipping Rogue One merchandise in the current quarter.

"Toys with movie tie-ins will continue to contribute to the increase, stemming from those released both in 2015 and 2016," Lennett said.

Sales of toys based on new movies such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, The Secret Life of Pets andTrolls are expected to boost the toymakers' sales in the second half of the year.

Another big contributor to sales this year was the dolls category, which rose 14% in the first half of the year, the NPD said.

The largest US toymaker Mattel Inc said last week that sales in the Barbie business jumped 23%, its biggest quarterly increase since at least 2009.

Mattel revenue is expected to decline to $5.56 billion this year, while Hasbro is likely to report a record $4.79 billion, according to StarMine.