I'm going to break my own heart this week.
Every week, I recommend a stock that investors should consider dumping from their portfolios. Every week, I also nominate three stocks to take its place.
I'm going to spice things up this time around, because the company that I'm hating on this week just happens to be the one I've owned the longest. Sure, I own exactly two shares of this family-entertainment giant, but I've owned them for more than 20 years. This stock was my first taste of investing, but I have to be a realist.
Who gets tossed out this week? Come on down, Disney
Next stop, Fantasyland
I'm a huge fan of Disney. Walt Disney World is my home away from home. I'm also a staunch supporter of CEO Bob Iger. The company has topped Wall Street's profit expectations every single quarter since he took the helm at the House of Mouse.
However, I can't just sprinkle pixie dust and assume that looming concerns will just go away. Let's review a few of the troublesome signs:
- This past quarter found revenue and operating profits climbing a mere 2%. A good chunk of the lackluster top-line growth can be blamed on the tricky studio-entertainment comparison with last year, but how do you explain the dip in operating income at the typically dependable broadcasting division?
- ESPN is a gem, but athlete salaries and programming costs continue to rise. Cable providers may be willing the shoulder the burden, but in the long term, observers fear that more sports fans will get their content directly from the leagues.
- Attendance fell at Disney's stateside theme parks this past quarter. The timing of the Easter holiday is the scapegoat, but several leisure-based companies nonetheless held up better than the Mouse House.
- Disney is a tween sensation right now. Even as Miley Cyrus and High School Musical wear out their welcome, Camp Rock and the Jonas Brothers are on their way in. Don't make the flawed assumption that Disney will always be this cool, though. There have been pronounced lulls in Disney's hitmaking machine, dating back to the original Mickey Mouse Club. You don't know when you've peaked until you're already going downhill.
- Remember when Disney sold its namesake stores to Children's Place
(NASDAQ:PLCE)? Investors cheered the decision as a way for Disney to recur high merchandising royalties with minimal overhead. But Children's Place sold the concept back to Disney; what does this say about the retail allure of Disney's premium brand?
- A few years ago, Disney was banking on a steady stream of movies from its Pirates of the Caribbean and Narnia franchises to keep box office receipts popping. The latest theatrical installment in each series fell well short of its immediate predecessor. What's next, Disney?
Analysts see earnings growing just 6% in the new fiscal year that begins next month. If advertisers continue to scale back, and discretionary income continues to dry up, even that slim growth projection may prove too ambitious.
I love Disney. Personally, I'm not letting go of my two shares. However, I certainly see some more enticing investing opportunities out there. As I have every week, I don't talk down a stock unless I have three alternatives that I believe will outperform the company getting the heave-ho. Let's go over the three fill-ins.
Disney may appear cheap at just 13 times next year's earnings, but how about Viacom? The parent of Nickelodeon is expected to grow its profits nearly twice as much as Disney next year, yet the stock somehow fetches less than 10 times projected profitability. If Disney loses its tween allure, young viewers may very well default to Viacom, with iCarly and SpongeBob waiting. It doesn't hurt that while Disney's video game sales have sputtered, Viacom has a smash hit with Rock Band, which is holding up well against Activision Blizzard's
I heart Pixar, but now that Disney's snapped up the computer-animation masterminds, DreamWorks Animation is the best pure play in quality theatrical animation. With this year's blockbuster success of Kung Fu Panda, DreamWorks Animation now has three hit franchises that it can milk for fresh lay-up installments. It can stagger sequels for Shrek, Madagascar, and Kung Fu Panda every three years, so that it always has an annual smash. DreamWorks will also keep putting out fresh releases, too, just in case any of the franchises starts to wear thin. Shares may not be as cheap as Viacom or Disney here, but the high-margin nature of this niche warrants a healthy market premium for the leaders.
If you're a fan of Disney's theme parks, Cedar Fair may be a fair proxy. Its parks may lack the big-budget polish of Disney's, but a thrill-ride fan like me has no problem with how the owner of Cedar Point and Knott's Berry Farm overcompensates with amazing coasters. Regional amusement park operators should hold up better in trying times than Disney, attracting locals who want closer getaways. That will help if the dollar continues to spike higher, a trend that will crush Disney's dependence on foreign visitors. The staycation movement is real, and you're seeing it regionally with healthy bookings at high-end, family-oriented Great Wolf Resorts
I still love you, Disney, but when it comes to the realm of more attractive near-term investing choices, it's not a small, small world.
Do you like my substitutions? Would you rather stick it out with the tossed company? Are there other stocks I should look at in future editions of this column? Let me have it in the comment box below.
Other headlines from the weekly garbage bin:
Cedar Fair is a former Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. DreamWorks Animation, Walt Disney, and Activision Blizzard are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is mad about the Mouse, and owns shares in Disney, DreamWorks Animation, and Cedar Fair. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.