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Why Disney Could Be a Top Stock to Own in 2022

By Parkev Tatevosian, CFA – Updated Dec 13, 2021 at 10:57AM

Key Points

  • Disney's theme parks are poised to be more profitable than ever.
  • Disney's streaming services are likely to hit full stride in 2022.
  • The House of Mouse could be at full strength before 2022 is over.

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Disney's stock price is down by double-digit percentages in 2021, but several factors could create a surge in 2022.

Walt Disney's (DIS -0.85%) recovery from the coronavirus pandemic has been slower than expected. Its vast operations, from theme parks to cruise ships, are still operating with COVID-related restrictions that hamper a full recovery.

That may not be the case by the end of 2022. Several effective vaccines against COVID-19 have been developed, and almost 8.5 billion doses have been administered into arms around the world. Step by step, governments worldwide are lowering business restrictions. As a company that relies on bringing large groups of people together in person, Disney is reaping the benefits.

Here's why Disney could be one of the best stocks to own in 2022.

A smiling child at an amusement park.

Image source: Getty Images.

Disney's theme parks could be more profitable than ever

The hardest-hit segment of Disney's business has undoubtedly been its theme parks. At one point in 2020, all its theme parks were closed to visitors -- a crushing blow to a segment that generated $26 billion in revenue and $6.7 billion in operating income in its fiscal year before the outbreak (2019).

Disney's theme parks are regaining momentum, but nowhere near full strength. In its most recent quarter ended Oct. 2, the segment that includes theme parks nearly doubled its revenue to $5.45 billion from $2.73 billion the same quarter last year. Management took the opportunity during park shutdowns to revamp operations. CFO Christine McCarthy is confident that theme parks will be more profitable in the future.

Higher profit margins are likely to go along with increased revenue at the park. In Q4, guest spending was 30% higher than in the same quarter in 2019. Two additional catalysts that are expected to boost revenue at the parks are the recent approval for a COVID-19 vaccine for kids aged 5-11, and the return of international visitors.

Consumers will feel the full power of Disney's content engine in 2022

It might be surprising to hear that streaming service Disney+ experienced a challenging year in 2021. The coronavirus pandemic has created a surge in demand for in-home entertainment, and Disney+ has been a prime beneficiary. Since launching in November 2019, the service had reached 118 million subscribers as of Oct. 3, 2021. That's also nearly 45 million more than it had at the same time in 2020.

However, that figure could have been much higher had Disney not been constrained by the coronavirus pandemic. The House of Mouse could not rev up its content creation engine as fast as it would have liked, considering the customer demand. Furthermore, because Disney decided to release some of its best films in theaters first, the tepid customer response to reopening theaters also slowed the amount of content flowing to Disney+.

That, too, will improve by the end of 2022. Here's CFO McCarthy describing the company's content plans for the year during Disney's fourth-quarter earnings conference call on Nov. 10:

Looking at fiscal '22, we are thrilled about the quality of the content coming in the first three quarters of the year, but we will not yet be at our anticipated steady-state cadence of content releases. The fourth quarter will likely be more indicative of what our slate could look like once we have tentpole content flowing steadily from all of our industry-leading creative engines. Q4 will be the first time in Disney+ history that we plan to release original content throughout the quarter from Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Nat Geo [National Geographic], all in one quarter.

One of the primary reasons Disney's stock price is down 15.7% in 2021 is the slower-than-expected growth at Disney+. Investors could hardly blame the other parts of the business, which all experienced positive news throughout the year as economies reopened.

An accelerating streaming segment, coupled with robust growth at legacy businesses, could create a powerful combination that propels stock-price appreciation for Disney in 2022.

Parkev Tatevosian owns Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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