There's little doubt Walt Disney's (DIS 0.09%) new streaming-first strategy makes strategic sense. Although we may not yet know exactly how much the entertainment world has changed due to the pandemic, we can safely say consumers now fully embrace on-demand video as a key component of their entertainment mix.
Being in the right place at the right time with the right product, however, doesn't necessarily make a company's stock a buy. The potential reward still has to make sense given the prospective risk for investors to take on a new position in a stock.
To this end, anyone looking to put some idle cash to work may be better served by passing on Disney shares for the time being and instead stepping into a broad index such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI 0.16%) via an instrument like the SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF Trust (DIA 0.19%).
Too far, too fast
Don't misread the message. Walt Disney isn't doomed, and Disney shares aren't permanently un-ownable. The company's now got 95 million paying Disney+ customers, picking up more than another 21 million subscribers last quarter alone. Digital TV Research's principal analyst Simon Murray believes that at the current rate of growth, the Disney+ headcount will surpass that of powerhouse Netflix by 2026. In the meantime, coronavirus vaccines appear to be curbing the pandemic's spread, and Disney's theme park business seems to be picking up speed sooner than anticipated.
While the current fiscal year could be another tough one for Disney, with analysts expecting per-share earnings of $2.05 versus last year's COVID-crimped bottom line of $2.02, the subsequent rebound should start to gel thereafter. Analysts are collectively calling for fiscal 2022 earnings of $4.99 per share on the heels of 25% revenue growth.
In this light, the stock's 113% run-up since March's low to its present price near $184 makes sense. As the old adage goes, though, timing is everything. At the present time, Disney's stock is priced a little too richly given the uncertainty as to when its significant investments in streaming will really begin paying for themselves.
The simplest of valuation measures quantifies this idea. Disney is presently trading at 90 times this year's projected per-share earnings of $2.05. Its forward-looking price-to-earnings ratio of 36.8 is more palatable, but not in comparison to the company's blue chip peers. For perspective, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is currently priced at 32.2 times its trailing profits, and a little less than 21 times its projected (2021) earnings.
Bernstein analyst Mark Shmulik arguably voiced the overarching concern most appropriately and succinctly. Speaking of the relentless bullishness inspired Disney's big streaming media plans, he rhetorically asked in a note to clients, "How many times can investors get paid for the same thing?" He's particularly concerned that investors are overlooking the oddly low average revenue per user for Disney+, which fell year over year from $5.56 per month to $4.03 per month for the period ending in December. That's among the lowest in the streaming business.
Less risk, more reward
Again, don't read more into the message than is actually being said. This isn't an indictment of Walt Disney's potential. It's simply an acknowledgment that Disney shares appear to have exceeded a valuation that the company's results can sustain until they can catch up with the current price. For now, investors may be better off keeping it simple by buying a diversified collection of top-notch stocks like all 30 names found within the Dow Jones Industrial Average. It's well up from last March's low as well, though not dangerously so.
A broad-based group of stocks also makes sense given the economic and political backdrop.
We know the economy is on the mend, with the first estimate of Q4's GDP growth rate coming in at 4%. With a new party and new kind of president in the White House at the same time that the U.S. Senate has tipped toward Democratic control, we don't know what policy changes may be down the pike that could adversely impact certain sectors. The smart-money move in this situation is owning of a little of everything, and not owning too much of any one thing. That's the name of the game, in fact -- balancing risk and reward.
Stay tuned. A steep pullback from Walt Disney shares and/or sweeping political policy changes could quickly alter the risk versus reward comparison.