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Don't Expect Disney World and Disneyland to Open Next Week

By Rick Munarriz - Mar 24, 2020 at 10:25AM

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The media giant's theme parks are officially closed through the end of this month, but they aren't likely to open anytime soon.

If we go by the timeline that Disney (DIS 1.03%) originally spelled out for its domestic theme parks, Disneyland in California and Disney World in Florida could reopen as early as next week. The media giant closed its gated attractions last week -- through the end of March -- but no one expects things to return to business as usual come April 1.

That Disney's two domestic bookends are heading into a prolonged outage is still a fresh notion. Disneyland and Disney World have never had an interruption that lasted more than a day or two. There are still people out there who naively think Disney turnstiles will magically unlock themselves at the end of this month, only because Disney hasn't officially announced an extension to the closures. Sorry, folks. Parks are closed. The mouse out front should've told you.

Two young riders on Toy Story Midway Mania ride at Disney.

Image source: Disney.

I want to be where the people are

Two months seems to be a more realistic timeline than two weeks for the Disney parks to resume operations, but even that may prove more than a little optimistic. The Shanghai Disney resort that Disney owns a minority stake in began gradually reopening earlier this month -- a little less than two months after it initially was closed down -- but it's not as if it's business at usual in China.

The actual Shanghai Disneyland theme park remains closed. It's some of the restaurants and shops outside the actual park as well as the adjacent hotel that have resumed operations with limited capacity and reduced operating hours. Getting in is no cakewalk. Every guest undergoes a temperature screening and must present a green Shanghai QR code to enter the resort. Visitors are also required to wear a mask during their stay at all times unless they are eating. In short, two months later it's still not an ideal experience. 

The financial hit that Disney will take in the current and next quarters will be substantial. The $175 million charge that Disney was talking about in early February for the current quarter was for the interruption at Shanghai Disney and Hong Kong Disneyland through the end of March. The domestic shutdown will easily be a 10-figure hit for the next quarter. 

Theme park fans are in a world of emotional hurt, but the hit is financial for Disney investors. Disney stock has fallen 44% since its Thanksgiving peak as of Monday's close, and that translates into $122 billion in market cap disappearing into thin air. 

The sell-off seems like an overreaction, but this isn't just about Disney's theme parks taking a big one-time hit. There will now be a precedent of Disney resorts closing for weeks and likely months -- not a day or two, as we've seen in the past. That has to be priced into the stock. There is the real possibility that Disney's theatrical release business will be irreparably damaged coming out of this crisis. If we go into a global recession, as most economists now expect, it will resonate painfully across most of Disney's businesses. 

It won't be long before Disney pushes back the estimate for when it expects to reopen Disneyland and Disney World, and only the optimistically naive will expect that to be the real eventual opening date. Disney stock will bounce back, but it's going to be a long and very bumpy road. Now would be a good time to pull on that yellow strap to make sure your seat restraints are secured correctly. The actual ride hasn't even started yet. 

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