By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co (DIS) reported a gain in profit that beat Wall Street expectations, boosted by higher spending by summer visitors to U.S. theme parks and increased sales of toys and other consumer products.
The media company posted diluted earnings per share of 77 cents for the quarter ended in September, according to a statement released on Thursday. That beat the 76 cents per share that was the average estimate of analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Net income for the quarter rose to $1.4 billion, a 12 percent gain from a year earlier.
Shares of Disney slipped 2.8 percent in after-hours trading to $65.30, down from their earlier $67.15 close on the New York Stock Exchange. The company's shares had gained nearly 35 percent this year before the earnings announcement.
"There's been such a run-up in this stock that people are just readjusting their numbers," said Matthew Harrigan, a media analyst with Wunderlich Securities, who has a buy rating on the stock at $77 target. "There's not much upside surprise with this company. It came in almost exactly what we expected."
Operating income at Disney's cable network unit, which includes its powerhouse ESPN sports channel, decreased by 7 percent to $1.3 billion in the quarter, the company said, citing the timing of recording some ESPN affiliate fee revenue.
Despite taking an undisclosed writedown for its summer flop "The Lone Ranger," Disney's studio reported a 35 percent rise in earnings during the quarter, boosted by its animated hit "Monsters University." The film generated $743 million in worldwide ticket sales, according to the site Box Office Mojo.
Operating income at theme parks grew 15 percent to $571 million as visitors increased spending at Disney theme parks in California and Florida.
Disney's Interactive unit turned around in the quarter, earning $16 million after losing $76 million a year ago, partially on sales of its new "Disney Infinity" console game.
The company has sold more than 1 million Infinity starter packs, Chief Executive Bob Iger told analysts on a conference call.
At the consumer products unit, operating income rose 30 percent to $347 million. The growth was driven by licensing of products related to movies such as "Monsters University" and "Planes" as well as products included after the acquisition of "Star Wars" producer Lucasfilm.
Disney announced the next installment in the "Star Wars" film franchise will be released on December 18, 2015.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Bernard Orr)