Updated with information on Disney's stock price.
All it took was some soothing words, and a positive forecast some twelve months into the future.
Shares of Walt Disney (DIS) - Get Report were rising Friday in the wake of CEO Bob Iger's pronouncement on the company's earnings call that investors can expect "robust growth" at the world's largest entertainment company beginning in the fourth quarter of 2017. Disney was gaining 3% on Friday morning after falling as much as 3% in after-hours trading on Thursday afternoon right after the results were released.
Investors were embracing Iger's forecast as a reason to buy shares in a stock that is trading at its lowest valuation in almost four years. Disney had lost 19% over the past year as of Thursday as sentiment on the company waned due to subscriber losses at ESPN, the very popular sports network, and uneven performance at its film and theme parks.
But after explaining that Disney expects its fiscal 2017 earnings, which begin in the current quarter, to generate "modest growth," Iger said an ambitious slate of Marvel films, two Star Wars releases and additional movies from Pixar and Disney Animation will fuel growth at its studios, as well as in the company's all-important consumer products unit starting in about a year.
"With modest growth due to some comparability factors that [CFO Christine McCarthy] will detail, fiscal 2017 will be an anomaly in our growth trajectory," Iger told listeners on the company's investor conference call. "We fully expect to return to more robust growth in fiscal 2018 and beyond."
Iger's focus on Disney's future was a stark contrast to the company's earnings for the September quarter, the last of its fiscal 2016 year.
The results revealed that ESPN remains in a four-year trend of declining subscribers, a reality that weighed on advertising sales at its networks, which includes ABC. Additionally, Disney's film studios and theme parks reported falling earnings, units that in previous quarters had cushioned the blow of sluggish numbers from its cable-TV properties.
For the quarter ended Sept. 30, Disney said earnings totaled $1.10 a share, a 16% increase from the same period a year ago but well below the $1.16 The Street anticipated.
Disney reported $13.1 billion in fourth-quarter revenue that missed the $13.5 billion forecast by analysts, according to a compilation by Thomson Reuters. The quarter had one less week than the quarter a year earlier, the company said.
For its full year, Disney reported adjusted earnings of $5.73 a share, a 17% increase that trailed the consensus forecast of $6.04 a share. Its revenues increased by 6% for the year, to $55.6 billion, which trailed the $58.3 billion that The Street expected.
The company's shares, which have fallen by about 8% this year, after hitting an all-time high last year, fell by 2.5% in after-hours trading before recovering when Disney executives talked of "robust growth" next year that will include another Star Wars movie. The stock was up by nearly 3% after the call.
Disney acknowledged that its cable TV unit, which provides about 42% of its operating earnings, suffered from a decline in subscribers, which it said was partially offset by contractual rate increases in the amounts that cable and satellite operators pay to carry it. But reduced subscriber numbers took its toll on the affiliate numbers, the company added.
Revenue at Disney's media networks unit, which also includes its ABC television network, declined by 3% for the quarter and operating income declined by 8%.
The company's red-hot studio, which this year leads Hollywood with a 23.7% market share on the strength of blockbusters like Finding Dory and Captain America: Civil War, failed to offset the lower cable numbers with earnings that fell by 28% on weak results from its films Pete's Dragon and Queen of Katwe. Finding Dory, released in June, continued to play strongly into the quarter, according to the movie site Box Office Mojo.
A new source of concern for Disney may be its iconic theme parks, which account for about 30% of the company's overall revenues. For the second straight quarter the company noted a decline in domestic attendance, with the numbers of guests down at its Disneyland Resort and park in Anaheim, Calif. Attendance also dropped at the company's Disneyland Paris resort and at its park in Hong Kong.
Revenue at the parks increased by a scant 1% in the quarter, and operating income fell by 4%, the company said.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held positions in Disney and Thomson Reuters.