It's been a whirlwind year for Walt Disney (DIS -1.70%). Disneyland reopened. Its movies started playing in theaters, again. Its cruise ships resumed sailing. And plenty will happen in the year ahead.
The big cheese of media stocks is widely followed, but it can always throw a few curves at the market. Let me take a stab at some things that will -- and a couple of things that won't -- happen with Disney in 2022. Don't worry, though. I'm sprinkling my crystal ball with pixie dust to make it the best forecast possible.
1. Bob Chapek will stay as CEO
I may as well start with the prediction that will upset a lot of Disney fans. CEO Bob Chapek is routinely slammed on social media, particularly by theme-park fans who aren't pleased with recent moves at the entertainment-behemoth's gated attractions. There was even chatter -- likely little more than wishful thinking -- that well-liked Bob Iger would return to the helm.
It's not going to happen. Chapek is staying.
He's done more right than wrong since taking over as CEO just as the pandemic was descending in the U.S., shuttering his theme parks, cruise ships, mall stores, and movie theaters just two weeks later. Chapek has been vilified for moves that will enhance the profitability of its theme parks. Regular visitors may not like it, but it's the kind of stuff that a boardroom will cheer.
2. Disney stock will move higher
Investors have to be scratching their heads. Outside of Disney+ and, to a certain extent, its media-networks segment, Disney was pounded by the pandemic in 2020. The stock still moved 26% higher. This year has been one of Disney resuming its dominance at the box office and turnstiles, but the stock is trading 16% lower through Monday's close.
Predicting that Disney will move higher in 2022 may not seem like going too far out on a limb. The stock has a positive year far more often than not. However, after the wild gain in an uncertain 2020 and a decline through this year's rebirth, everything is upside down.
Disney will get it right on both ends in 2022. The business will improve, and investors will reap the rewards.
3. The dividend doesn't come back
A lot of the companies that suspended their payouts in 2020 have resumed their distributions in 2021, but Disney has been a holdout. Back in September, Chapek said that bringing back its dividend was something that would happen "sort of in the distant future." The disbursements will come back once Disney improves its credit rating, gets past the COVID-19 crisis, and improves its cash flows.
It's hard to see Disney checking off all three of those boxes in 2022. Disney+ isn't expected to turn an operating profit until fiscal 2024. While that's just one business in Disney's wide portfolio, it will drag down the company's cash flow and credit rating in the process.
The COVID-19 situation has only gotten worse in the past three months. Disney's dividend never amounted to much, and right now, that money is better spent turning the company around.
4. Tron at Disney World won't open in 2022
It's been more than four years since Disney announced that Shanghai's Tron-themed attraction would be coming to Disney World in 2021. It's been three years since the iconic Disney World railroad has been closed to allow construction of the family-friendly thrill ride to take place.
Tron Lightcycle/Run didn't open this year in time for the Florida resort turning 50 in October as originally intended. Unlike the other coaster that Disney announced in 2017 -- a Guardians of the Galaxy-themed rotating-story coaster with an official summer 2022 opening date -- Disney has been mum on the Magic Kingdom's Tron addition.
Even if the new Tron ride is ready in a couple of months, why would it open? The Marvel coaster will be the top draw for the upcoming summer season. It makes more sense for Tron Lightcycle/Run to wait until either early 2023 to attract visitors near the end of the resort's 18-month celebration or even closer to the summer, when the tourist season starts.
I can definitely see the train reopening at some point in 2022. The construction work that halted the railroad rides around the park should be completed in the next few months. I just feel that Disney will strategically hold back on the new coaster so it has a new thrill ride to offer in 2023.