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Is the Worst Over for Walt Disney?

By Daniel B. Kline – Jun 14, 2020 at 7:36AM

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The company saw roughly two-thirds of its operations pause due to the pandemic.

Walt Disney (DIS -2.31%) was hit as hard as any company due to the coronavirus pandemic. The company was forced to close its theme parks, resorts, and cruise line, while movie theaters shut down, leaving it no place to exhibit its films during the important summer blockbuster season.

It was a perfect storm that saw the company's earnings per share drop by 93% in the second quarter of fiscal 2020, to $0.26 from $3.53 last year. The company's operations in Europe and Asia were impacted for much of the second quarter, while its U.S. operations were affected toward the end of the period.

Numbers almost certainly will be worse in the third fiscal quarter, as the theme park and movie business segments have been closed. The good news is that Disney+ has been growing much faster than expected, but overall it's a bleak picture for Disney, at least in the short term.

As we head into the heart of the summer, there are some positive signs for the company. Its U.S. theme parks have opening dates, and Mulan appears to be on track for a theatrical release in July. The current quarter will be dreadful, but the worst may be over for the House of Mouse.

A child is helped into a ride vehicle at Magic Kingdom.

Disney is getting closer to reopening its theme parks. Image source: Walt Disney.

Is Disney ready for a comeback?

"While the COVID-19 pandemic has had an appreciable financial impact on a number of our businesses, we are confident in our ability to withstand this disruption and emerge from it in a strong position," said CEO Bob Chapek in the Q2 earnings release. "Disney has repeatedly shown that it is exceptionally resilient, bolstered by the quality of our storytelling and the strong affinity consumers have for our brands, which is evident in the extraordinary response to Disney+ since its launch last November."

Disney plans to reopen its Florida theme parks with limited capacity beginning on July 11, with its California parks following about a week later. It will also be welcoming guests back to its hotels and hosting the resumption of the NBA season at its ESPN Wide World Of Sports facility in Florida.

The Mulan release is not finalized, and it's going to be hurt by movie theaters operating with limited capacities. It's very likely the company will also offer the film on-demand in some fashion -- a model that has been somewhat successful for the small handful of films that have used it.

The next few months won't be easy for Walt Disney, even if its theme parks sell out, as they're less profitable running at half capacity. And they may not sell out, as tourists need time to make plans to visit. Still, while these are baby steps, they're very positive ones that should help the company rebuild its business.

Is the worst really over for Disney?

Walt Disney still faces a lot of challenges, but it's safe to say that -- barring another virus-related shutdown -- the worst has already happened. Operating with reduced capacities and showing movies in half-empty theaters will constrain profits, but it's better than a complete shutdown.

It won't be clear sailing for a long time (until the pandemic ends), but more of the company will be operating each month, and that's very good news for investors. Consumers may spend less, be cautious about travel, and generally be more careful, but Disney has taken the important first steps toward getting back to where it was.

Daniel B. Kline owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney and short July 2020 $115 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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