Disney Pulls Off a Little Earnings Magic

02/08/2012 5:12 pm EST

Focus: STOCKS

Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor, JubakPicks.com

As expected, the company’s film unit dropped badly, but strong revenue from theme parks led to an impressive earnings beat, writes MoneyShow’s Jim Jubak, who also writes for Jubak’s Picks.

When I sold Walt Disney (DIS) out of my Jubak’s Picks portfolio on January 10, I flagged problems at the company’s movie business as the reason.

Well, when the company reported earnings yesterday, February 7, for the recently concluded first quarter of fiscal 2012, the movie unit didn’t disappoint me. Revenue at the Walt Disney Studios unit dropped 16% from the year-earlier quarter.

And that was a big contributor to the company’s revenue miss for the quarter. Disney reported revenue of $10.78 billion, an increase of just 0.6% from the first quarter of fiscal 2011 a year ago. That was well below the $11.19 billion consensus estimate for revenue from Wall Street analysts.

But it turns out that the stock market didn’t much care. Earnings climbed to 80 cents a share, 9 cents a share better than the Wall Street consensus, as the company’s parks unit killed on both revenue and operating income.

As of 2:20 p.m. New York time on February 8, the shares are up 1.4% to $41.57. That’s 4.9% above the price at my January 10 sell call.

One of the reasons that investors decided that the good news out of parks trumped the bad news in the movies is that revenues at the parks unit very closely track the US economy. So good news from Disney’s parks fits in exactly with the expectations for stronger-than-expected US economic growth, which is in general driving this stock market rally.

But exactly how strong that economy will be remained an open question, if you listened to CFO James Rasulo during the company’s conference call.

The 10% increase in revenue at the parks unit came from higher ticket pries and higher spending on hotel rooms, as Disney continued to roll back promotional room rates put into place during the recession. The ability to raise prices is certainly a sign of an improving economy. So is the increased spending on food and drink at the Florida and California parks.

But Rasulo didn’t go overboard when he talked about the company’s next quarter. For example, bookings were running ahead of the levels of a year ago by mid-single-digit rates.

I still think the big bump upward for this stock will come in fiscal 2013, when capital spending starts to fall off. In fiscal 2012, capital spending is still climbing—and looks to finish the year around $4 billion—as the company builds out the new Shanghai park, refurbishes US parks, and invests in a new cruise ship.

The current troubles in the movie and the interactive-media units—caused by a lack of movie and game titles, and by lagging performance of DVD titles such as Cars 2—should make year-to-year comparisons in 2013 look very strong.

In the current quarter, Disney’s main release was The Muppets, a decent performer but not a blockbuster. That’s a low bar to jump.

I’d look to re-enter the stock at $36 or lower on the next dip to position myself for fiscal 2013.

Full disclosure: I don’t own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this post in my personal 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 own shares of Polypore International 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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