Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) shares are trading up as Wall Street expects the entertainment titan to hit lightspeed in the wake of its acquisition of LucasFilms.
But while some investors think the Force is clearly with this stock, I have a few doubts.
The company, which acquired LucasFilms for $4 billion last year, delighted Star Wars fans yesterday when it announced that J.J. Abrams, best known for Lost, would direct Star Wars Episode 7. Two other standalone Star Wars films are also in the works. One is being made by Lawrence Kasden, who wrote Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Simon Kinberg, who gained notoriety through his work on the X-Men movies, is making the other.
Though the Star Wars franchise remains a fan favorite and has grossed billions, bringing these films to the silver screen won’t be cheap. The production budget for each of the three prequels topped $100 million, according to Box Office Mojo. That’s a lot of money, even for Disney, and success is no guarantee.
Yesterday’s earnings showed a disturbance in Disney’s Studio Entertainment business. Operating income at the division plunged 43% to $234 million in the last quarter, by far one the worst performances of any of Disney’s businesses. The reason is simple: a lack of hits. Disney’s Home Entertainment business was hurt because the company didn’t have an offering to match the popularity of The Lion King: Diamond Edition and Cars 2, both of which were released in the prior year. Disney also was hit with additional marketing costs for Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln film, which is up for numerous Oscars.
Net income at the Burbank, Calif.-based company fell 6% to $1.38 billion, or 77 cents a share, versus $1.46 billion, or 80 cents a year ago. Excluding one-time items, profit was 79 cents, beating the 77-cent average estimates of Wall Street analysts. Revenue rose 5% to $11.34 billion, which also beat forecasts for $11.21 billion.
Perhaps the most heartening results were in Disney’s Parks and Resorts business, which is especially sensitive to economic headwinds. Some pundits were worried that concerns about the fiscal cliff and stagnation in Europe would hurt results, but those fears appear overblown.
Increased spending at Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort along with the addition of the Disney Fantasy cruise ship boosted Parks and Resorts revenue for the quarter by 7% to $3.4 billion and operating income by 4% to $577 million. Attendance was up at Disneyland, and Walt Disney World saw higher occupied room nights. The outlook for this business looks pretty good, especially if the economic rebound remains on track.
Disney’s other businesses posted decent results in the quarter.
- Operating income in Media Networks rose 2% to $1.2 billion, but higher programming costs at ESPN eroded profits. Revenue rose 7% to $5.1 billion.
- Operating income in Consumer Products surged 11% to $346 million while revenue jumped 7% to $1 billion.
- The company’s small Interactive business saw revenues improve 4% to $291 million, and it earned $9 million, reversing a year-ago loss and marking the first time the division has reported a profit since Disney has broken out its results.
Shares of the Burbank, Calif.-based company are trading at a multiple of 17.6. Yes, that’s cheaper than Time Warner (NYSE:TWX), which trades at 19 times earnings after reporting a blowout quarter today, and News Corp (NASDAQ:NWSA) at a P/E of 25. But that’s still DIS’ highest P/E in five years.
Of the three, I like Disney the best — I just don’t like the stock at these prices. Investors should wait for a pullback before pulling the trigger.
As of this writing, Jonathan Berr did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. Follow him on Twitter@jdberr.