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Disney Stock Won't Be Hitting New Highs Anytime Soon

By Rick Munarriz – Oct 15, 2020 at 10:06AM

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The world's largest media company is now 17.5% below last year's all-time highs, but there's a lot standing in the way of Disney right now.

Walt Disney (DIS 0.74%) may seem to be on top of the world these days. The debut of its Disney+ service has topped 60 million premium subscribers, and the platform hasn't even blown out its first birthday candle. We're waist-deep in a pandemic, and Disney's unmatched vault of content has helped inspire us through these past seven months of desperation and, once every so often, boredom in the new normal.

The NBA wrapped up its season earlier this week at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. Every single pro basketball game over the past two and a half months has taken place at Disney World's live sports venue -- in Florida, no less -- and not a single case of COVID-19 materialized among the players, coaches, and crews. 

Even Disney's ABC and Disney Channel have thrived in this climate. Our TV has helped entertain us when we needed distractions and enlightened us when we needed to see more clearly. This is Disney's world we're living in right now, but the same can't be said for the stock of the media giant. Disney shares are still trading below the all-time high they hit just before Thanksgiving last year. What will it take to get Disney back to hitting all-time highs? Unfortunately for investors it's going to take a lot to return the House of Mouse to its former glory -- and that's going to take a lot of time.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse on Main Street U.S.A. with their noses touching at night.

Image source: Walt Disney.

There's a method to the media madness

There were nearly 700 stocks hitting all-time highs last week. Disney wasn't one of them. The shares continue to trade 17% below its previous high-water mark despite a market that is generally rewarding companies with strong consumer-facing businesses that are clicking in this climate. 

Disney is certainly doing a lot of things right, but there are also plenty of things that aren't going its way right now. Disneyland in California closed exactly seven weeks ago. Disney's original theme park has yet to reopen. Disney World has been up and running since July, but even Disney has come out and said that attendance levels in Florida aren't running as strong as they had initially projected. 

As the studio behind all six of last year's hottest movies, it's a company that feasts at the local multiplex, but that's another outlet tripping up Disney's studio entertainment segment. The reorganization announced earlier this week -- where Disney's blowing up the silos and addressing the best place for a new movie or TV show to succeed -- was initially applauded by investors, but it will take a long time to pay off. 

As great as it's been to see The Mandalorian take off ahead of the second season that debuts later this month -- and as exciting as it was to see Hamilton and other high-profile Disney films go from initially planned multiplex debuts to consumer-direct streaming -- Disney+ will drag down overall financial performance in the near term. Investors holding out for a resumption of earnings growth or even the resumption of its dividend will be disappointed in the near term. Disney is still the class act among media stocks, but for now that also involves a lot of moving parts that just happen to be moving in the wrong direction.  

Rick Munarriz 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 October 2020 $125 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Stocks Mentioned

Walt Disney Stock Quote
Walt Disney
$98.59 (0.74%) $0.72

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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