Disney’s stock dipped more than 3% in early trading Monday after two analysts issued downgrades on its shares.
The latest setback followed reports of the company’s expanded cutbacks due to COVID-19. The Financial Times reported over the weekend that 100,000 employees, mostly in theme parks, would be furloughed, a move that is expected to save the company $500 million a month. The company is recommending the workers seek state benefits during the furlough period, the paper said.
The cutbacks affect nearly half of the company’s total workforce.
Shares fell below $103 in the early going. Barely two months ago, they were above $140.
Disney and unions reached an agreement several weeks ago to furlough 43,000 workers at Disney World in Florida. It had also reached an agreement with unions to furlough workers at Disneyland in Anaheim but the number of employees wasn’t specified. Disney has 177,000 theme park workers around the world.
Credit Suisse analyst Doug Mitchelson lowered his rating on Disney to “neutral” from “outperform.” In a note to clients, he said concerns about the company’s liquidity were “overblown” and sees the company’s stock rebounding in the coming years. In the near term, however, things look far murkier. Mitchelson cited “a remarkable lack of operational visibility” and “a now more equally balanced mix of positive and negative catalysts.”
John Hodulik of UBS similarly went from “buy” to “neutral,” citing the same turn of events. The analyst struck an ominous note in his message to clients. “The lingering effects of the COVID-19 outbreak will be felt for a number of years,” he wrote, “and the Parks segment is unlikely to regain previous thresholds for profitability until after a vaccine is widely available. In the meantime, the outbreak and its economic impact should drive fewer domestic and international travelers and new health precautions, social distancing and crowd aversion which will keep pressure on attendance and spending even after health officials are comfortable with the risk of re-opening. We now expect attendance to be 50% of 2019 levels when they re-open next year, growing to 75%” by the end of 2021.
Disney signaled mass furloughs were coming on April 2 when it announced that employees whose “jobs aren’t necessary at this time” will be furloughed after April 18. The biggest numbers come in parks, with the highest concentration of staff and zero revenue. The parks have been shuttered since March 16 and will remain closed indefinitely.
Disney’ furloughs are accompanied by executive pay cuts and an aggressive push to raise fresh cash. Last week, it entered into a new $5 billion, one-year credit agreement, following the sale last month of $6 billion in debt securities – giving the conglom a hefty $11 billion cash cushion to weather the pandemic which is hitting it on multiple fronts from theme parks to advertising, the disappearance of live sports and a shutdown of film and TV production.
Streaming has been a bright spot, with Disney+ reaching 50 million global subscribers far more quickly than anyone had projected. The company will report quarterly earnings on May 5. Bob Iger, who had stepped down as CEO in February to focus on creative operations as executive chairman, has recently taken a more hands-on role in steering the company. Theme park veteran Bob Chapek is continuing in the top job and was recently given a seat on the Disney board.