It's doesn't get much better for a Hollywood studio. In the past three months, Walt Disney (DIS) - Get Report had the kind of run of blockbusters that movie moguls only dream about, as the company unleashed three of the year's top four films and collected a cool $1.8 billion in worldwide box office receipts from that trio alone.
The take from Finding Dory, Captain America: Civil War and The Jungle Book should make it pretty clear sailing when Disney reports its fiscal third-quarter earnings on Tuesday following the market close. A growing number of analysts seem to be believe its torrent of box office riches may be enough to offsetthe problems that have begun to appear on Disney's income statement, particularly with its ESPN network, and which last quarter forced it to miss both Wall Street's revenue and earnings consensus.
Analysts expect Disney to record nearly $14.2 billion in revenue, an 8% increase, and an 11% hike in earnings to $1.61 per share. Ten of the 31 analysts following Disney have revised their earnings forecasts upward in the past 30 days, according to Yahoo Finance, with only two reducing them.
Disney shares were up 73 cents, or 0.8%, to $96.47 in Tuesday afternoon trading.
Disney's strong movie slate will make up for weakness elsewhere in the company, figures Needham analyst Laura Martin, who reduced her estimates for Disney cable, broadcast and theme park units but hiked her prior estimates of studio operating income by 43%. She figures the company will cash in on the better-than-expected performance of the quarter's slate as well as strong home video sales for previous releases Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Zooptopia.
Martin, who rates Disney a hold, maintained her $1.60 a share earnings estimate, essentially matching the consensus, although her $13.96 billion revenue forecast is slightly below consensus.
The company has some lingering issues. Last quarter revenue fell by 2% at the company's cable operations, its largest unit, which was weighed down by sports behemoth ESPN's continued subscriber losses and lower advertising sales. Income fell at Disney's broadcasting unit in part from lower ratings and higher write-offs for programs that didn't work at its ABC TV network.
TheStreet's Jim Cramer said Disney's earnings depend on the importance of ESPN's issues.
"What has to happen is that the whole mosaic of earnings has to switch," Cramer said. "ESPN has to become smaller and smaller. ... We have to have the theme parks go bigger and bigger, that's Shanghai [the company's newest park]. We have to have a better movie slate. ... And then you will get to the point where the ESPN decline won't be as powerful."
Cramer said this quarter, however, he believes ESPN's impact won't be detrimental to overall earnings despite its continued weakness.
"Typically I would like to stick my neck out, but I can't do it because I don't know what the number is and I do believe that ESPN will be soft," he said. "So what I'm trying to figure out is, what will the stock do if ESPN is soft, and a lot of that depends on what [Disney CEO Bob] Iger says tonight."
Its theme park unit, despite a hefty 10% hike in operating income, had a blemish as attendance declined at its largest theme park, Orlando's Walt Disney World complex.
Drexel Hamilton analyst Tony Wible, who rates Disney a buy and hiked his third-quarter estimates in June, nevertheless believes Disney will miss consensus estimates in part because he thinks its studio could take an impairment after the dismal performance of the Johnny Depp film Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Made for $170 million, according to website Box Office Mojo, and marketed for at least $100 million more, the sequel grossed a disappointing $76.8 million in domestic ticket sales and $287.2 million worldwide. (Hollywood studios collect about half the domestic box office but often much less in foreign countries.)
Moreover, Wible said Disney could incur bigger losses than anticipated when it opened its giant Shanghai Disneyland Park in mid-June. The company said it will occur $300 million in pre-opening costs, although Wible believes it may have added more staff than needed at the outset to overcome what he called "inefficiencies." He also postulated that the Brexit vote in England may have discouraged European visitors from visiting Disney's theme parks.
Wible forecast earnings per share of $1.55 for Disney in its third quarter.
A Disney spokesman had no comment.
Like a vanquished supervillain, however, those possible weaknesses easily could fall victim to Disney's killer quarter at the box office. The animated Finding Dory, released in June, is the year's biggest film, with $473.9 million in domestic ticket sales. It's followed by Captain America: Civil War, which was released only five weeks earlier and has generated $407.2 million.
And as any movie mogul worth his Guccis knows, Hollywood loves a good ending.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held a position in Disney.