Shares of Disney (NYSE:DIS) moved 4% higher on Friday after the media giant posted better-than-expected financial results. One of the more pleasant surprises in the report was a rebound for Disney's theme parks and consumer products business, as revenue and segment operating income rose 8% and 17%, respectively.
Disney stunned investors last time out by revealing that attendance declined at both of its domestic theme park resorts. Despite a buoyant economy and the addition of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at the original Disneyland park in late May, fewer guests visited the stateside attractions in the fiscal third quarter that ended in June. Disney World in Florida bounced back over the summer, largely on the late-August introduction of the nearly identical Star Wars-themed expansion that opened on the West Coast three months earlier. Disneyland, on the other hand, continued to experience a year-over-year decline in turnstile clicks.
Disneyland shot first
Disneyland should've been the one to bounce back this time. The original park had the benefit of a full three months of operation of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, and it was no longer limiting entrance to the 14-acre expansion to folks who had made online reservations back in March. Disneyland's reservations requirement ended a week before the fiscal third quarter came to a close.
Three time zones away, Disney World should've been the one that didn't bounce back. Galaxy's Edge didn't open until the peak summer travel season came to a close. Hurricane Dorian then threatened to blow into Central Florida, shuffling travel plans in the process.
Earlier this week, rival SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE:SEAS) announced a decline in attendance, driven primarily by negative results in Florida. SeaWorld blamed Hurricane Dorian, of course, for its sluggish performance at SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa -- but it also singled out that there were more rainy days during the three-month period than the year before. Disney World weathered the storm, in more ways than one. Disneyland flopped despite its typically sunny weather.
There are some good reasons why Disney World's debut of Galaxy's Edge is off to a strong start, even after all of the mixed Disneyland reports bubbled to the surface. Disney World has far more on-site hotels than Disneyland, giving it a captive audience who are there for more than just a single new ride or attraction. Opening in late August isn't strategically ideal, but it also means that more of its lower-tier annual passes aren't blocked out of access to the gated parks. Disney World also relies more on international visitors, in contrast to Disneyland's strong local leanings, making it easier to overcome area whispers that a new land is a flop.
Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is not a flop, and even if it is off to a rough start at one of the two stateside resorts, it's still an incomplete grade. As Disney pointed out in its earnings call on Thursday night, it believes that some guests are waiting until the more elaborate of the two rides -- Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance -- opens at Disney World next month and Disneyland in January. Anticipation of the complete land being available in the coming weeks could be why advance hotel bookings are clocking in at rates 5% higher than a year earlier.
Disney will continue to be one of the market's most popular consumer discretionary stocks. It should overcome the initial hiccups at Disneyland. If we're still talking about sliding attendance there in a couple of quarters, then it will be fair to argue that the ambitious Galaxy's Edge rollout just wasn't what California needed, and then we can debate what the House of Mouse will do to fix things. For now, Disney is still finding a way to grow its business, and attracting fewer guests willing to spend more isn't exactly a bad business strategy.