Walt Disney Co. (DIS) - Get Walt Disney Company Report CEO Bob Iger warned last fall that fiscal 2017 would be a year of slow growth peppered with uncertain transitions. Iger told shareholders that the coming year was "going to be an anomaly."
So far, that's mostly what they've gotten.
Shares of the world's largest entertainment company continue to trail the broad market, having advanced a mere 2% in 2017, compared with 11% for the S&P 500 index and 12% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which includes Disney. Big surprises on the upside have been few and far between, and Disney's fiscal third-quarter earnings may offer investors more of the same.
Disney was gaining 0.4% to $106.72 on Tuesday, Aug. 8.
Results, though, are likely to underwhelm. Revenue is expected to hit $14.4 billion, according to a Bloomberg survey of 25 analysts. For the same period a year earlier, revenue totaled $14.27 billion. Analysts also projected net income would total $2.43 billion, compared with $2.63 billion for Disney's fiscal third quarter in 2016.
The consensus estimate for earning per share for the quarter is $1.55, versus $1.63 a year ago.
When Disney reports earnings on Tuesday after the market closes in New York, its results will be based on five fewer NBA playoff games on ESPN, the sports network that is both its largest individual business and a constant source of investor obsession. Results also may be dampened by slower-than-expected growth from its consumer products division and a decline in fees from pay-TV operators, UBS media analyst Doug Mitchelson said in a June 15 note.
And Disney most likely will have to acknowledge that ESPN lost subscribers during the quarter, the pace of declines having accelerated over the past 12 months.
ESPN's subscription total at the end of 2016 stood at 88.4 million, compared with 2010, when the network was drawing fees from more than 100 million subscribers. But that was then. These days, consumers are increasingly choosing less expensive skinny bundles or opting to not subscribe to pay-TV at all.
ESPN, though, has been included on the raft of digital pay-TV services such as Dish Network Corp.'s (DISH) - Get DISH Network Corporation Class A Report Sling TV, Hulu LLC and AT&T Inc.'s (T) - Get AT&T Inc. Report DirecTV Now, and the network is in the midst of a programming reset that will accelerate in September. Disney is banking on digital growth to offset pay-TV declines.
Looking more broadly at its TV business, the company's largest division, Disney has begun negotiating new carriage agreements with pay-TV operators, beginning with Altice USA Inc. (ATUS) - Get Altice USA, Inc. Class A Report . Whether ESPN can still secure big increases in those carriage fees despite a decrease in total subscribers is a factor sure to weigh on the stock.
Looking into the company's fiscal 2018, Disney's film slate is sure to dominate box office sales -- Disney is expected to releases four Marvel and two "Star Wars" films. In the quarter ended June 30, Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" had an underwhelming domestic performance (the film still grossed $781.4 million worldwide), while "Cars 3" failed to draw the big crowds of its predecessors.
For the moment, though, disappointing earnings results from AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. (AMC) - Get AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc. Class A Report , the largest theater chain in North America, are certain to be a theme of discussion when Iger is questioned by Wall Street analysts. A week ago, AMC's shares plummeted 26% after reporting unusually weak second-quarter box office sales while acknowledging that the third quarter looks much the same.
One bright spot, though, is likely to come from Disney's theme parks, its second-largest division. And Iger is likely to make sure investors hear a lot about Orlando.
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