For as much pain as the coronavirus pandemic has caused on so many levels, it has brought opportunity for investors with long time horizons. Some businesses may be changed forever as consumer trends have changed, but others will recover and grow again in the months and years ahead.

Robinhood investors have many risky stocks on their list of top 100 picks. But long-term investors don't need to overthink what the future holds for some of those companies. Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) is one well-known blue chip that is on the Robinhood list, and it has a clear path back to growth and success. 

Disney castle lit up at night

Image source: Walt Disney.

A vaccine stock

Disney's variety of businesses were all in the bull's-eye of the pandemic's impacts. Cruises, sporting events, theme parks, and movies all basically shut down. The company suspended its dividend to shore up liquidity. And investors looked elsewhere with no real end in sight to the pandemic. 

But on Nov. 9, when Pfizer announced surprisingly good interim efficacy data on the vaccine it is working on with BioNTech, Disney stock jumped 12%. That's a huge move for a company with a $250 billion market capitalization. The market repeated the sentiment a week later after Moderna reported similar vaccine news on Nov. 16, with a slightly more subdued 5% gain. 

The share jump was a signal about how investors believe the company will, in fact, return to profitable growth when the world moves on to a post-pandemic new normal. 

About the business

Disney reported earnings for the fourth quarter of its fiscal 2020 on Nov. 12. Though there weren't any surprises on the businesses that have been slow due to the pandemic, the accelerated introduction of its streaming business caught investors' attention. The company reported almost 74 million subscribers to Disney+, and 120.6 million total as of Oct. 3 including Hulu and ESPN+. That's an increase of 19% just since its previous quarter. 

CEO Bob Chapek said about the streaming business in a statement, "The real bright spot has been our direct-to-consumer [DTC] business, which is key to the future of our company." The DTC segment's share of Disney's total revenue has been steadily growing to a much more meaningful level, as the table below shows. 

Segment Full Year Ending 10/3/20 Full Year Ending 9/28/19

Full Year Ending 9/29/18

Media networks 43.4% 35.7% 36.9%
Parks, experiences, and products 25.2% 37.7% 41.6%
Direct-to-consumer and international 25.9% 13.4% 5.7%

Studio entertainment




Data source: Disney financial filings. Note: Columns add up to more than 100% due to inclusion of intersegment content transactions. 

Robinhood can be right

Many Robinhood investors seem to be attracted to momentum stocks or high-risk businesses. Those can certainly play a role in a diversified portfolio. But it's also encouraging to see a company like Disney on the list of its 100 most popular stocks. 

Even with a 20% run in just the month of November, year-to-date returns from Disney have lagged the major stock indexes.

DIS Chart

DIS data by YCharts.

What comes next

With much of the business, and the share price, beaten down from the pandemic, there should be upside for investors buying Disney stock now. The cruise ships will eventually sail again, visitors will return to theme parks, and movies and sporting events will draw people back. 

Though Disney decided to forgo paying its semiannual dividend again in January 2021, part of the reason was to direct funds to the growing DTC business. In Disney's latest earnings call, CFO Christine McCarthy said, "We anticipate the payment of a dividend will remain a part of our long-term capital allocation strategy following the return to a normalized operating environment."

There are plenty of things to like looking ahead for Disney, and that may be why Robinhood investors have made it a popular holding. Now would be a good time for others to join them. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.