You'd think that this should be an especially trying time at the Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS).
The entertainment and media giant's ballyhooed summer popcorn movie The Lone Ranger was an opening-weekend box-office fiasco and represented a public embarrassment for the Magic Kingdom company. Its performance was so catastrophic that it has sparked comparisons with Disney's other major movie nightmare in recent memory, John Carter.
Starring Johnny Depp, The Lone Ranger opened with an anemic figure of about $49 million in the United States and Canada. Meanwhile, the animated film Despicable Me 2, from Comcast's Universal Pictures posted a remarkable result of $142 million. Adding to Disney's misery, the company spent an estimated $250 million to produce The Lone Ranger while Universal invested about $76 million on its animated feature.
Putting further stress on Disney, one of its flagship franchises, ESPN, appears to be under pressure to continue to flourish with the debut next month of hard-charging rival Fox Sports 1.
Yet Disney's much-followed stock has not suffered. Wall Street has been able to look past the Chicken Little headlines because analysts see the big picture.
On Monday, Credit Suisse stressed that it was raising its target price to $74 from $73 for Disney. True, a single dollar doesn't seem like a big deal, but what matters here is the timing of the investment banking firm's move -- reassuring Disney investors that Credit Suisse strongly believes in the company, and its price target connotes a potential 14% upside from its price at the time. Credit Suisse noted:
With the majority of key affiliate deals and sports-rights deals locked up into the next decade, revenue and cost visibility remains high for ESPN. We project an 8% 5-yr CAGR [compound annual growth rate] for Cable EBIT [earnings before interest and taxes] with affiliate renewals balancing elevated cost growth in FY 14-15, followed by longer term margin expansion as costs normalize.
The Star Wars franchise should drive strong profit growth and mitigate risk at the Studio with fewer risky high budget films. Further, our analysis indicates more upside at Consumer Product than consensus est. Overall, we are raising our Lucas EBIT est by 40% and 61% in FY14 and FY15. Based on trends at other Asian parks and the large local market, we conservatively estimate Shanghai can debut w/7m visitors and $748m rev in FY16. Entry into the Chinese market should also create opportunities for other DIS businesses.
Nineteen equities analysts have placed a buy rating on Disney, and one says it is a strong buy, overshadowing the 11 analysts who say Disney is a "hold" for investors. Disney has an average investment rating of "buy" and an average target price of $68.19.
Disney has its share of skeptics, too, on Wall Street. On June 20, for example, Goldman Sachs downgraded Disney from a "buy" to a "neutral" rating while placing a $70 target price on the stock.
Disney next reports quarterly earnings on Aug. 6. On May 7, it posted earnings per share of $0.79, topping the Thomson Reuters consensus projection of $0.77 by two pennies. In addition, its revenue figure came in at $10.55 billion for the three-month period, against the forecast of $10.48 billion. During the same quarter a year ago, Disney had earnings of $0.58 a share. Its revenue jumped 9.6% compared with the same quarter in 2012.
Only a strong company could shrug off the problematic Lone Ranger opening at the box office. Disney is now expected to take a writedown of more than $100 million on the movie in the fiscal fourth quarter.
However, cooler heads have prevailed here. As The Fool's Tim Beyers pointed out on July 9, "Don't pity Walt Disney. For as badly as The Lone Ranger is performing at the box office, the company's Buena Vista Pictures is earning as much as ever."
As the astute Beyers notes, after amassing $800 million in U.S. box office sales only once in this century -- in 2010 -- the company has accomplished the feat both in 2012 and this year. The reason: Marvel's The Avengers and Iron Man 3. These reaped more than $1 billion each in worldwide box office results.
"Impressive may be too timid a word for how well Buena Vista is doing right now," Beyers wrote.
The moral of the story is that people who obsess over box-office failures don't often look at the big picture. No doubt, Disney has egg on its face right now because of the expectations surrounding The Lone Ranger.
But the key to a well-run company such as Walt Disney is that it has enough strength to overcome one major disappointment.
Motley Fool contributor Jon Friedman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.