It took a while, but Disney (NYSE:DIS) shares finally have moved. Disney stock traded sideways for nearly four years. But the launch of Disney+ last month sent the Disney soaring to new highs.
Source: Baron Valium via Flickr
As it turns out, I was half-right. A week before the company announced the details of Disney+, I wrote that company’s streaming move would shape the direction of DIS stock. I noted that if Disney, through its streaming efforts, could create even one-fourth of the value of Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), the Disney stock price would rise 20%.
Both predictions turned out to be accurate. Of course, I also thought it would take years for Disney to prove the value of its streaming plans, and potentially for DIS stock to achieve those 20% gains. Instead, investors bought the plan immediately. Disney jumped over 11% on the first day, and it would take just a few more sessions to show that 20% increase.
With those gains, however, the same problem arises: what moves DIS stock from here? CEO Bob Iger repeatedly has noted that earnings are going to take a hit from streaming in the near term. Even subscriber numbers likely won’t be available until early next year. And the rest of the business is not performing well.
Disney already has pulled back after the initial pop. I wouldn’t be surprised if it returns to its rangebound ways for at least the rest of the year.
DIS didn’t move much after earnings (adding 0.4% last week), which makes sense. For all the optimism about streaming, there are real challenges in the operating business which were highlighted in the fiscal second quarter report.
Most notably, earnings per share fell 13% year-over-year on an adjusted basis. Revenue climbed 3% but all of the gains came from the assets acquired from Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ:FOX,FOXA). Excluding a modest amount of revenue from Hulu, who was consolidated onto Disney’s earnings during the quarter, Disney revenue actually fell year-over-year.
To be sure, spending behind ESPN+ and, to a lesser extent, Hulu pressured earnings. But the story at the moment is largely what it was. Media Networks operating income declined again, according to figures from the 10-Q. That’s even with affiliate fees (payments from cable and satellite operators) increasing 4%. Those fees will decline at some point as subscriber counts continue to fall and contracts are renegotiated.
The Parks business continues to be solid, though attendance was a bit light (including a decline at the international parks). Studio Entertainment revenue and operating income fell, due to a tough comparison against a Star Wars release the year before.
Those numbers likely will be much better in Q3 thanks to the blowout success of Avengers:Endgame, but the segment remains choppy, if generally headed in the right direction.
Overall, the quarter tells the same story Disney has for some time. ESPN remains a big worry. The rest of the business is growing, but not necessarily spectacularly so. There’s certainly nothing in recent results to change that story.
Streaming and Disney Stock
If the legacy business doesn’t inflect, the question is whether the streaming opportunity can move the stock higher, at least in coming quarters. It seems somewhat unlikely, if only because there’s unlikely be much in the way of news.
We know what the plans are going to be. For the rest of this year, at least, the argument is going to be over what streaming profits look like not in 2020, but more importantly 2022 and 2025. Is Disney a real competitor, or at least a complement to, Netflix? Will new services from Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) and AT&T (NYSE:T) unit WarnerMedia be a threat? Is Disney+ a plan for families or, given properties like Star Wars and the Marvel Universe, broad enough for everyone?
The answers to those questions will take years to play out, but most investors likely have taken their positions at this point. Certainly, investors are optimistic. But bear in mind that Disney stock added $24 billion in market value in one day when the details of the streaming plans were announced. DIS now trades at over 20x next year’s earnings.
That’s a multiple based on streaming growth, and the fact that FY20 profits will be depressed. Investments behind the streaming effort, as well as the loss of high-margin licensing revenue as Disney pulls its content from other distributors (including Netflix), are going to hit earnings next year.
That’s fine. An investor can’t argue, as I have, that Netflix can grow into its valuation, but that Disney is too expensive at 22x FY20 earnings. But the catch with Disney stock is that if optimism towards streaming grows, it likely comes at a cost to near-term earnings.
What Moves DIS Higher?
If cord-cutting accelerates, making streaming more valuable, Disney’s existing properties will take a hit in terms of both affiliate fees and advertising revenue. If it doesn’t, it’s tougher to make the argument that Disney+ is worth more than what’s already baked into the Disney stock price.
Longer-term, that problem may not matter. Even with the sideways trading of the last few years, Disney has been a terrific investment. That might continue. But it’s going to take time. It’s exceedingly difficult to see a positive catalyst for Disney stock before 2020 at the earliest. And so DIS may resume its old ways until the streaming service has a chance to drive even more optimism.
As of this writing, Vince Martin has no positions in any securities mentioned.
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