The Magic Isn’t Happening for Disney

01/10/2012 5:19 pm EST


Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor,

Walt Disney’s (DIS) movie business didn’t look like it was going to turn in a stunning 2011 before, but now the well-publicized troubles of the movie studio’s marketing president, MT Carney—a Hollywood Reporter piece on January 10 quoted her departure e-mail—is drawing new attention to just how bad the first half of calendar 2012 could be for a business that accounts for 16% of the company’s revenue.

Revenue at the studio entertainment division is forecast to rise just 4% in fiscal 2012, according to Credit Suisse. That comes after a fiscal 2011 when operating income dropped by 11%.

But that performance in fiscal 2011could wind up looking like the good old days, and the projections for fiscal 2012 could turn out to be optimistic.

The company’s slate of big first-half releases is full of high-risk projects. Science fiction epic John Carter is estimated to have cost $250 million, The New York Times reported.

Pixar’s June release is Brave, a movie built around a Scottish princess that may not immediately appeal to boys. The Avengers, scheduled for May, is the first Marvel movie that Disney will market on its own since buying the comic-book company in 2009.

Disney is set to release earnings on February 7. I’m not worried about the recently concluded fiscal first quarter of 2012 that the company will report then. It’s the guidance that could hold a nasty surprise or two.

Negative comments about the studio entertainment division aren’t going to be as damaging to the shares as bad news about, say, theme parks. Most Wall Street analysts covering Disney are resigned to the unpredictable volatility of the movie business, and won’t ding the stock too hard for any problems in that unit.

But negative guidance on the movie unit still won’t be helpful to the share price. The chart on the stock looks extended—it’s trading near the top of its Bollinger Band.

Given the risk in the February 7 guidance, I’m going to take my 8% profit (as of January 10) here. That’s short of the absolute dollar gain I was looking for when I added the stock to the portfolio, but 8% plus dividends in a little more than a month is OK by me.

(The next dividend isn’t set to be paid until January 18, but since the record date was December 16, if you bought on December 2—as I did in my Jubak’s Picks portfolio—you’ve already qualified for the payout.)

Full disclosure: I don’t own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this post in my personal portfolio. Walt Disney is a member of my Jubak’s Picks portfolio The mutual fund I manage, Jubak Global Equity Fund, may or may not now own positions in any stock mentioned in this post. The fund did not own shares of Walt Disney as of the end of September. For a full list of the stocks in the fund as of the end of September, see the fund’s portfolio here.

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