Wrong. The stock is down about 4% in midday trading and hit a low of $107.37, which is down 8.9% for the last 30 days.
And BTIG’s Richard Greenfield says the stock still is overpriced: Today he downgraded Disney to “sell,” with a price target of $90.
The problem, he says, is that investors — anticipating big numbers from Star Wars — sent Disney shares too high. The stock is up 15.3% so far in 2015.
If the new movie fails to generate more than $2 billion in worldwide box office sales, Greenfield says, then Disney would fall short of analysts’ consensus earnings-per-share forecasts for the fiscal year that ends in September 2016.
While Star Wars will help the studio’s revenues to “explode” in 2016, they’ll be “flat-to-down-modestly” in 2017 and 2018. And the jolt in consumer product sales is somewhat offset by the decline in purchases for licensed merchandise from Frozen.
But he’s mainly concerned about ESPN, which contributes far more to Disney’s profits than Star Wars. Cable networks, led by ESPN, account for 44% of the company’s operating income.The sports channel “now appears poised to become Disney’s most troubled business as consumer behavior shifts rapidly” to digital video, the analyst says. The company recently said that Nielsen data show that the channel lost about 3.2% of its subscribers this year.
ESPN also could be left out of cable and satellite skinny bundles: In contract negotiations, Disney opted for high rates instead of guarantees to have the channel distributed to a high percentage of subscribers, Greenfield says. That’s why Disney’s suit against Verizon FiOS, which left ESPN out of its low-priced Custom TV offering, “has gone nowhere.”
Meanwhile, ESPN isn’t prepared to offer itself directly to consumers the way CBS does with CBS All Access or HBO does with HBO Go.
Morgan Stanley’s Benjamin Swinburne yesterday also said he’s concerned about ESPN, and lowered his estimates for the sports network’s revenue growth. That plus the tough comparisons against the Frozen-driven merchandise sales “fully offset” the gains for Star Wars — which he predicts will generate $750 million at domestic box offices and $1.5 billion overseas.
Others are more enthusiastic about Star Wars‘ impact. After seeing the film, Nomura’s Anthony DiClemente said that he’s “optimistic the company is well positioned” to see as much as $3.6 billion in revenue and $2.2 billion in operating income from the franchise. He sees box office sales potentially reaching $818 million domestically and $2.2 billion abroad.
Cowen and Co’s Doug Creutz also is optimistic. “No matter how much the film does this weekend … we think the strong critical reviews have more significant implications for the long-term health of the franchise.”