Walt Disney (DIS -1.78%) had to shut down many of its most lucrative operations to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Now, as cities, states, and countries begin to allow businesses to reopen, Disney is hoping to put the worst of the pandemic behind it.
The company made significant decisions to make sure it would survive the crisis, such as going to the debt markets to raise capital, suspending its dividend, and substantially reducing senior executive compensation. Let's take a closer look at three things that make Disney a stock to buy right now.
Reopenings will reduce uncertainty
Shanghai Disneyland opened back up in May, and fans bought out tickets in an instant, somewhat alleviating the fears that people would be hesitant to return to parks. In the U.S., meanwhile, the company announced it would be opening Walt Disney World on July 11 and Disneyland on July 17.
Admittedly, the parks will be restricted below full capacity for a while. However, in the earnings call for the quarter that ended in March, CEO Bob Chapek said, "we would not reopen any park unless we can make at least a positive contribution to that overhead and operating profit level."
Additionally, Disney's Mulan will come out in theaters in the U.S. on July 24, followed by Marvel's Black Widow on Nov. 6. The return of movie releases in theaters is a welcome sign, as Disney usually dominates at the box office. The movies can then be moved to Disney+ and reinforce its content library.
In good news for Disney's ESPN, the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced that it's planning to resume its season on July 30. The pent-up demand for live sports programming will be on full display when the games start up again.
Overall, the announcements and reopenings provide a dual benefit for Disney investors. They will start generating revenue, cash flow, and profits. And they will remove a significant amount of uncertainty, which is usually a positive for investors.
Disney+ is a hit with consumers
The company has 54.5 million subscribers to its Disney+ streaming service as of its latest update. The company launched its service in Japan on June 11, and it's planning to offer its service in the Nordics, Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Latin America later this year. To give you a glimpse of the market potential, Netflix has over 34 million paying members just in Latin America.
Given the additional rollout of the service and the continued soaring demand for in-home entertainment, it would not be surprising if Disney+ reaches 75 million subscribers by the end of 2020. That would be far ahead of its expectations when it first introduced the service, which was for 60 million to 90 million subscribers by 2024.
The company is pricing its service competitively, which, along with its robust content library and brand loyalty, is driving customer acquisitions. It will be interesting to see if it can start raising prices once it has accumulated a broad base of subscribers. As of its most recent quarterly report, Disney+ had 33.5 million paying subscribers, who were paying an average monthly price of $5.63. In contrast, Netflix has 182 million subscribers paying an average monthly cost of $10.87.
Disney can raise prices
In 2018, the price of a ticket to Disney World was $119. That same ticket in 2006 was $67. The increase hasn't appeared to curb visitors' enthusiasm -- visitors routinely expect long lines and wait times on a trip to one of Disney's parks. As a benefit of reduced capacity, perhaps customers will be able to go on a ride without waiting so long.
If reduced capacity becomes a long-term issue, then prices can be raised to reduce some of the impacts of lower attendance. Disney CFO Christine McCarthy said in the most recent conference call, "Per capita guest spending during the period the parks were open was up 13% on higher admissions, merchandise, and food and beverage spending."
Still, the company has the power to raise prices more without losing a significant number of customers. That pricing power is likely to be more evident now with the restriction of daily admission to the parks.
What this means for investors
Admittedly, there is still a risk that another spike in coronavirus infections could halt some of this progress. But Disney has enough going for it that investors with a long-term time horizon should look to accumulate Disney shares.