What's that? You're bummed that ABC isn't going to have a new episode of Lost on until February? Instead of analyzing the significance of the Lost numbers (4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42) as it pertains to the series, why not spend the next few months of reruns digging into some of Disney's
It's safe this time. No dark clouds. No evil black smoke.
The numbers that matter
Disney closed out fiscal 2006 in fine fashion. Fourth-quarter profits soared to $0.36 a share after a $0.19-per-share showing a year earlier. The top line inched 14% higher to hit $8.8 billion. The results came in slightly ahead of Wall Street expectations, which were looking for $0.34 a share in net income on 8.7 billion in revenue. In a strong sign of operating efficiency fortitude, free cash flow for the fiscal year as a whole catapulted 95% higher to $4.8 billion.
Beyond the numbers, it's comforting to see Disney hitting on all cylinders. It's also good to know that Disney isn't going to coast along and ride cost controls into the future. Capital expenditures will inch up in fiscal 2007 as the company invests in new theme park attractions as well as new media initiatives.
Let's not discount the importance of Disney's potential on both of those fronts. Expedition Everest may have been a costly thrill-ride addition to Disney's Animal Kingdom park in Florida, but it helped lead attendance gains. Compare that to regional park operators like Cedar Fair
New media spending is also important, as Disney hasn't followed its media conglomerate peers like News Corp.
Nearly half of the company's operating profit improvement came from the turnaround in its studio division. Fewer releases can work wonders on the cost side, but when the company has hit, it has often hit big. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and Cars remain the top two domestic box-office draws this year, and they have also been blockbusters overseas.
What's that? You're still hung up on the meaning behind the Lost numbers. Apply them to Disney. I did. Let me show you my math.
Disney's paint by numbers
4: The number of Disney divisions -- networks, parks, studio, and consumer products -- that all showed improvement this past quarter. There is usually a laggard. Remember when ABC was sputtering after its overexposure of WhoWants to Be a Millionaire? Or when Disney's animation studio was a mess with theatrical duds like Treasure Planet and Home on the Range? These are gravy days at ABC, and Disney animation is the computer-rendered cat's meow with this year's Pixar acquisition.
8: Eight Below may not be regarded as one of Disney's finest live-action flicks, but it was a solid producer this year. It surprised box-office watchers by opening at the top during its opening holiday weekend and wound up grossing more than $120 million worldwide. That's not too shabby for a film with a modest $40 million production budget. Yes, movie theaters take big bites on the top, and marketing and distribution costs plump up expenses at the bottom, but ultimately, Disney has another profitable flick that it can continue to monetize through DVD sales and broadcasting rights. A scaled-back slate of live-action films will hopefully bring more bunt singles like Eight Below, as well as homers like Pirates.
15: Disney's relationship with The Children's Place
16: This number goes out to all the teens that Disney targeted with its High School Musical flick. It aired originally as a Disney Channel movie but became so popular that soundtracks and DVDs sold like hotcakes and the company began dubbing -- and in some cases recasting region-specific versions -- for hot overseas markets. Ka-ching! Disney is cool again.
23: It was in April of 1983 -- 23 years ago -- that Tokyo Disneyland welcomed guests to Disney's first overseas theme park. While Disney does not own the park itself (it is licensed to The Oriental Land Company), it set the stage for a global leisure empire that has since found Disney adding theme parks in France and China. It's more than just a park. It's the perfect form of brand ambassadorship.
42: New York City's 42nd Street was considered a hub of ribaldry until Disney arrived. With bigger-than-life retail projects and the longer-lasting success of Broadway productions of The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, Disney didn't have to dig too deep -- or too far back -- into its vault to transform some of its more recent animated blockbusters into artsy cultural fare.
The real Locke lock
OK, so maybe I have a soft spot for Disney. It's the first stock that I ever owned. Yesterday, I argued that it's the best blue chip for the coming year. Yet even I can take off those rose-colored glasses -- the ones attached to my mouse ears -- and take an unbiased view of the numbers.
Disney is back. Then again, one can argue that it was never Lost in the first place.
Disney is an active recommendation for Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter service subscribers. Cedar Fair is an Income Investor selection. Try out any of our newsletters free for 30 days.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoys taking his family to amusement parks of all sizes, all over the country -- unless Lost is on. He owns shares in Disney and units in Cedar Fair. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.The Fool has a disclosure policy.