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Disney Has Some Big Questions to Answer Next Week

By Demitri Kalogeropoulos - Apr 28, 2020 at 11:20AM

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They'll be plenty of bad news to go around -- but also some bright spots -- in this earnings report.

The shift in investor attitudes about Disney's (DIS -1.20%) business has been swift. The entertainment giant was riding high in mid-February after having successfully launched its video-streaming service and notching record consumer spending at its parks.

The stock then dove 40% in the following weeks as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closing of most of Disney's resorts and scrambled other important segments like ESPN. That situation has raised the stakes for its upcoming earnings report, which should answer major questions for investors concerned about the financial impact of the global social-distancing efforts.

Let's take a look at some metrics to watch when Disney announces its second-quarter results on May 5.

The good news

The company should have positive news to report on the Disney+ video-streaming service, which ramped up at just the right time and recently crossed 50 million paying users. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings put that success in perspective after the streaming giant announced its own blowout growth numbers in late April.

A family watching TV together.

Image source: Getty Images.

"Over 20 years of watching different incumbents like Blockbuster and Walmart and all these companies," he said in a conference call, "I've never seen such a good execution of the incumbent learning the new way and mastering it." Look for Disney to show progress on building its own huge platform for getting content directly to its fans. Those wins will show up in subscriber numbers, but also in daily engagement metrics like hours streamed.

The bad news

The Disney+ service is already a valuable outlet for properties like Pixar's Onward, which was impacted by theater closings before quickly moving to streaming in April. But the company is still likely to report major year-over-year losses in the areas of its business that involve in-person entertainment. These include film sales, parks and resorts ticketing, consumer products, and cruise lines. The COVID-19 impact will also be felt on its online properties like Hulu, which will be hurt by collapsing advertising rates.

The fiscal second quarter only runs through the end of March, which covers just about two weeks of widespread social-distancing closures. But executives should be able to share some details about the scale of the business slump through most of April.

Cash is king

CEO Bob Capek has only been leading Disney for a few weeks, but one of his first official acts will be calming investor worries about the company's financial strength. Shareholders got some hints regarding the stress on the business in late March, when Disney announced sharp cuts to executive salaries while citing the "extraordinary business challenges" brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We'll get more information about Disney's broader savings plan in this report, along with details about the company's cash position as it navigates through a slump in many of its biggest revenue streams.

Capek and his team probably won't be able to say whether the parks and resorts will be open in time for the traditional summer seasonal bounce, and it will be even harder to predict key factors like the scale of the recession or how quickly consumers will return to crowded entertainment venues.

Instead, investors can expect to hear how Disney is preparing for many months of a potentially difficult operating environment while still laying the groundwork for a recovery once the consumer appetite returns for travel and in-person entertainment activities.

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