Income investors waiting for Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) to bring back its dividend may want to get comfortable. Speaking at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference on Tuesday, CEO Bob Chapek was asked about when the family entertainment giant would resume the distributions it suspended in early 2020. Payout fans won't like the answer.
"We're not going to entertain doing that," Chapek said, until the company's credit rating and cash flows improve. "The clear priority is funding our new growth businesses that we've got."
It's probably not a surprise. In short, Disney+ ate your dividend check.
Giving Disney some credit
Chapek is right about Disney's creditworthiness being a shell of what it used to be. The House of Mouse saw its credit rating downgraded in April -- and lower still in November -- of last year. The pandemic's drag on Disney's theme parks, movie studios, and cruise ships is fairly obvious, but there's more to this story than that.
The runaway success of Disney+ is another culprit. It's a money pit right now, as Disney builds up the content catalog for the fast-growing streaming platform. The service that launched just 22 months ago is already at 116 million subscribers. It's a hit. However, Disney doesn't expect Disney+ to generate an operating profit until at least fiscal 2024.
Pocketing its profits for the near future makes sense. Disney is not going to forgo pursuing big-ticket productions for Disney+ or promoting its platform overseas for the sake of sending pocket change to its large shareholder base.
It's not as if the semiannual distributions were moving the needle for income investors. The $3.2 billion Disney was shelling out every year is a lot of money, but it translated to a meager yield of just 1% at today's stock price.
Disney also doesn't have to look very far to find inspirational stories of stocks that have thrived since kicking their distributions to the curb. Theme park rival SeaWorld Entertainment has seen its stock more than quadruple since discontinuing its quarterly dividend five years ago. Leading multiplex operator AMC Entertainment Holdings' shares have skyrocketed eightfold since its distributions came to an end in early March of last year.
Can Disney pay a dividend now? Sure. It has rattled off three consecutive quarterly profits, and even its theme parks segment is posting a positive operating profit. The probability is that just because Disney can pay a dividend doesn't mean it wants to.
Chapek said on Tuesday that refreshing Disney's dividend is "sort of in the distant future." It's not going to happen now with the pandemic still a threat. It may not come back even the COVID-19 coast is clear if it has better places to spend its money. You can check off Disney as a dividend stock from your yield-hungry shopping list. Those payouts aren't coming back in the coming months.