Mickey Mouse has gone from being a payout prince to a pauper this year after suspending his semiannual dividend back in May. Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) wasn't the only blue chip to hit pause on its payouts, but now investors are starting to wonder when they'll resume.
Disney's springtime announcement that it was forgoing its payment of a semiannual cash dividend for the first half of fiscal 2020 made sense. The pause was framed as a way to preserve $1.6 billion in cash at a time of uncertainty and disruption in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. It's a matter of when -- not if -- the dividend will come back. We could find out as soon as next week if the next payment will also be nixed.
Carousel of progress
Disney reports its fiscal fourth-quarter results after Thursday's market close next week. This isn't historically when Disney declares its dividend for the second half of the fiscal year. In each of the past three years, the House of Mouse has waited a couple of weeks after its quarterly conference call, announcing the year-end dividend between late November and early December.
However, with interest rates at rock-bottom levels and income investors wondering if they should cling to Disney stock or move on, it makes sense for the company to offer guidance about the state of its semiannual disbursements even if it's not outright asked. It's fair to say that Disney's distributions never amounted to much. The yield would be just 1.4% at the previous rate and the current stock price. Still, a payment would be a creature comfort for its shareholders.
There's also a strong argument to be made that the iconic media stock shouldn't be so quick to resume dividend payments. The company isn't out of the woods just yet; it was surprisingly profitable in its previous quarter, but it's expected to dip into the red in next week's report. The optics also won't be great if it resumes payouts while laying off theme park and ESPN employees in the name of preserving capital. Some also think that Disney should redirect its dividend money into generating more content.
Yet Disney is back to business. All of its theme parks outside of California have been open for months. Disney+ is booming. Its media networks segment is holding up fine in the new normal, with the exception of a hiccup in the ad market. Disney movies aren't hitting theaters despite the fact that some multiplex operators began firing up their projectors in August, but only because of Disney's tactical decision.
There are still some question marks about the pandemic and the recession. However, the restoration of the semiannual dividend would mark a return to normalcy -- and the market would likely appreciate a dose of the optimism that Disney has mastered over the years.