Why the Walt Disney Company Is a Top Stock

Disney got a big win by buying up the Stars Wars franchise, but here's why it's a great investment.

May 23, 2014 at 9:42AM

The cast for Star Wars: Episode VII has been announced, shooting will begin shortly. That's big news for Star Wars fans, but also big news for Disney (NYSE:DIS) investors. The debut is scheduled for December 18, 2015.

Wall Street analysts have a range of estimates for just how successful Star Wars will be for Disney; however, the majority agree that the acquisition of Lucasfilm for just over $4 billion in 2012 is a bullish strategic move. Statisticbrain.com has estimated the total franchise revenue through 2013 at $27 billion. Two of the imponderables are the reception of the franchise in China and the strength of demand for consumer products related to the movies.

More details on Star Wars
Disney has also confirmed that with Episodes VII, VIII, and IX, there are also at least three new spin-off films in the pipeline. In the past, Disney has explained that the first two spin-off films, scheduled for 2016 and 2018 were expected to fill the gap between Episode VII scheduled December 2015 and the other two films in the main trilogy.

Additional investment in the Shanghai theme park
Disney has announced that it will spend another $800 million in building attractions in its new theme park in Shanghai. The new property in China is scheduled for a December 2015 opening and the additional spend will allow it to have its rides ready for the opening. The total investment will now go up from $4.7 billion to $5.5 billion. Much of the additional spending is expected to go toward boat themes such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Battle of the Sunken Treasure.

Its newest resort, located in the Pudong district of Shanghai, is almost three times as large as Hong Kong. The Shanghai theme park was announced in 2010 to take advantage of the growing spending power of the middle class. Now that the one child policy has been relaxed, the resulting increase in the birthrate should lead to expanding demand for leisure and entertainment.

Outstanding first quarter performance
Frozen became the highest grossing animation film of all time providing plenty of opportunities for growth. Quarterly operating income was up 34% from $2.5 billion to $3.4 billion and again the studio business shined with an increase of over 300% to $475 million from $116 million. Adjusted EPS hit a new record of $1.11 a share against the consensus analyst estimate of $0.96 per share.

The outlook for the future
Disney has a robust business model in which it transforms its characters into global brands and then proceeds to generate revenue from theme parks and different types of merchandise. With both Avengers 2 and Star Wars VII in its pipeline, these should contribute to the growing success of the strategy.

Disney also has a solid stock buyback program, totaling $4 billion in recent years and the company has increased the target for fiscal 2014 to $8 billion, which should have a positive impact on the share price. When you consider the growth prospects and factor in the dividend of over 1%, this company is worth a closer look.

How the competition stacks up
Disney has outperformed its peers such as Viacom (NASDAQ:VIAB) and Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) and deserves to trade at higher multiples. It currently trades at a P/E ratio of 17 based on next year's earnings. Viacom trades at a forward P/E of 13.3 and Time Warner trades at 15.3.

Disney's yield is only 1.1%, whereas Viacom's is 1.4% and Time Warner's is 1.8%. Worth noting is that Time Warner has agreements with Time Warner Cable that helped increase the exposure of HBO GO and MAX GO, by allowing HBO's domestic subscriber base access to the two services. Time Warner is also looking to divest Time magazine in an effort to allow it to focus only on TV and film.

Then there's Viacom. While Disney has the sports powerhouse, ESPN, Viacom has MTV and Nickelodeon. It also has a strong film pipeline via Paramount. Paramount launched Noah earlier this year and produces the Transformer movies.

Bottom line
The entertainment industry should pick up as the economy rebounds. Disney is looking to open new theme parks, while also continuing to produce exciting films. For investors looking for a broad way to play the entertainment market, Disney is worth a closer look. 

Is Disney one of these companies?
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Marshall Hargrave has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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