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Disney beats Street on higher theme park spending, toy sales

A rainbow is seen behind a fountain featuring Mickey Mouse at the entrance of Hong Kong Disneyland July 13, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co (DIS) reported a 12 gain in profit that beat Wall Street expectations, lifted by higher visitor spending at U.S. theme parks, increased consumer product sales and its summer animated movie hit "Monsters University."

The media company on Thursday posted diluted earnings per share of 77 cents for the quarter ended in September, edging the 76 cents 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 a year earlier.

Shares of Disney, which have gained nearly 35 percent this year, slipped 1.8 percent in after-hours trading to $65.94, down from their earlier $67.15 close on the New York Stock Exchange.

Investors reacted negatively to a prediction from Disney Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo, on a post-earnings conference call, that capital expenditures will increase by $1 billion over 2013, said Needham & Co. analyst Laura Martin. Most of those funds will go toward increased investment in the Shanghai Disney Resort scheduled to open in late 2015, Rasulo said.

"The company had been saying that the capital expenditures were going down," said Martin, who rates Disney stock a "hold." "Markets look ahead," he added.

For the just-ended quarter, 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 some ESPN affiliate fee revenue.

Despite taking an undisclosed writedown for its summer flop "The Lone Ranger," Disney's movie studio reported a 35 percent rise in earnings during the quarter, boosted by Pixar prequel "Monsters University." The film generated $743 million in worldwide ticket sales, according to the site Box Office Mojo.

Disney also announced it will release the next installment in the blockbuster "Star Wars" film franchise on December 18, 2015.

Operating income grew 15 percent to $571 million at Disney's parks and resorts unit, as visitors increased spending at Walt Disney World in Florida and Disneyland Resort in California.

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 said.

"All indications suggest the strong demand for Disney Infinity will continue," Iger said.

At the consumer products unit, operating income rose 30 percent to $347 million. The growth was driven by licensing of products tied to films such as "Monsters University" as well as products included after last year's acquisition of "Star Wars" producer Lucasfilm.

Iger said Disney was making progress in negotiations with Dish Network Corp (DISH) to carry the company's TV networks, though he said remaining issues "could take some time."

"Right now, the negotiation is more about issues related to technology," he said.

Iger also said he was not preparing to sell the ABC television stations that Disney owns, as some news outlets have reported. "I don't think it would be wise to either predict or to conclude that these assets are on the market," he said.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine and Ronald Grover; Editing by Bernard Orr)