by Jonathan Berr | May 10, 2012 8:30 am
The fog that has surrounded Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) last year has lifted, and it’s not too late for investors to hitch their wagons to Mickey Mouse’s star.
Wall Street was wowed yesterday after the Burbank, Calif., media conglomerate posted better-than-expected results thanks to strong performance at its theme park business and its cable networks, such as ESPN. The company also announced a sequel to its huge box office hit The Avengers.
Shares of DIS, which hit an all-time high Wednesday, still are fairly valued, trading at a price-to-earnings ratio of 15.9, under their five-year high of 16.4, according to Reuters. Pretty remarkable considering that at least five Wall Street analysts raised their price targets on the stock. And even then, investors still might be underestimating Disney’s growth potential. Here’s three reasons why:
Take The Avengers. According to Box Office Mojo, the film has already grossed more than $700 million worldwide, ranking 47th on the all-time box office rankings. That’s pretty impressive for a picture that was released less than a week ago and cost a reported $220 million to produce. The Avengers stands a good chance of beating Avatar’s box-office record, which currently stands at $2.78 billion.
And Disney’s opportunities for profit through The Avengers might be even greater than James Cameron’s masterpiece, especially when it comes to merchandising.
The Avengers is a supergroup of some of Marvel’s most popular characters – including Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk and Thor — which Disney acquired along with the rest of the company for $4 billion in 2009. That means the film is basically four tentpole franchises wrapped into one. These characters appeal to fans that were born decades after they debuted in Marvel’s comic books and people old enough to appreciate their history.
Disney also will release Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 next year, and Captain America 2 in 2014, which will only fuel demand further.
Disney was careful to avoid hyping the merchandising potential, but it’s obviously huge. The company earns more than $200 million annually from Cars merchandise, which CEO Robert Iger described as its best-selling consumer-products franchise of all time.
“It would be premature for me to predict that Marvel’s Avengers is going to get to that level, but we’re obviously bullish about where it can get to,” Iger said during yesterday’s earnings conference call. ”And I think I’ll just leave it at that.”
Investors, though, should never invest in any media company solely because of one hit, even monster blockbusters like The Avengers. Hits come and go — as do box-office bombs such as John Carter. Luckily for investors, Disney is not dependent solely on the fickle fortunes of the box office.
One pleasant surprise in the quarter was the Theme Parks business, where profit rose 53% to $222 million. Worries that the slowdown in Europe and the faltering U.S. recovery would hurt the division were shown to be baseless.
About 18% to 22% of the visitors to Walt Disney World and Disneyland came from overseas. Foreign tourists from countries such as Brazil and Canada helped compensate for flat domestic traffic outside of Florida and California, according to James A. Rasulo, chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. U.S. traffic to the parks might rebound somewhat during the summer if gas prices continue to fall and the U.S. economic recovery does not falter too badly.
Disney cruises, where bookings surged 30% during the quarter, also should do well. There is a pent-up demand among consumers who were forced to deny themselves pleasures like vacations during the Great Recession. Disney offers such a wide variety of price points that vacationers can have fun with their children and not break the bank.
Disney also is making progress in the digital media business. Iger told analysts that he expects the business to turn a profit in 2013 by decreasing its investment in console games and increase spending on social and mobile offerings. That business could be a winner given the company’s huge lineup of characters — if it’s managed right.
Operating income at Disney’s Media Networks surged 13% to $1.73 billion in the last quarter, fueled by double-digit gains in the company’s cable and broadcast TV businesses, which should continue. Disney’s domestic cable channels, including ESPN and ABC Family, showed gains in advertising revenue and affiliate fees. The strong ratings at ABC Family were noteworthy considering the ratings declines at Viacom’s (NASDAQ:VIAB) Nickelodeon. Advertisers remain bullish about ABC despite the declining audience for Dancing With The Stars as the hit comedy Modern Family enjoys its best season ever.
Though one quarter does not make a trend, Disney appears headed in the right direction.
As of this writing, Jonathan Berr did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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