Do you think that the US economy is going to get worse, or that the stock market, after reaching a new all-time high, will take a beating? If so, one of the best theme park operators, and companies period, for protection against downside in the US might be The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS). Even though it has a domestic base and derives a lot of its revenue from home instead of abroad, the entertainment giant has a large amount of global exposure stemming from its theme park operations that could buoy your portfolio in the event of a downturn.
Parks and resorts is big business!
Although rivals like Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA)-owned NBCUniversal, Six Flags Entertainment (NYSE:SIX), and SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE:SEAS) are big players in the theme park industry, no company can measure up to the success seen by Disney in recent years. As of the end of 2013, Disney boasted a complete or at least partial stake in nine of the ten most-visited theme parks in the world and two of the five most-visited water parks.
As a result of its No. 1 market position, Disney rakes in billions every year from these locations. In fact, in 2013, Disney's parks and resorts segment reported its best year ever with sales of $14.1 billion, 19% greater than the $11.8 billion management reported just two years earlier. This segment is far larger and growing much more rapidly than any of its peers.
|(theme park revenue in millions)||2013||2012||2011|
Sources: Disney, Six Flags, SeaWorld, and Comcast
Over the same three-year period, for instance, Six Flags saw its revenue climb just 10% from $1 billion to $1.1 billion, while SeaWorld saw its revenue grow from $1.3 billion to almost $1.5 billion. The best performer over this period, with the exception of Disney, was Comcast's NBCUniversal as its theme parks segment reported a 12% rise in revenue from almost $2 billion to $2.2 billion.
But revenue isn't everything... how diverse is the business?
While the hub of Disney's parks and resorts segment is in the US, as evidenced by its 25,000-acre Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, its 510-acre Disneyland Resort in California, and its Aulani 21-acre Disney Resort and Spa in Hawaii, the company has significant ownership interests abroad. One of its biggest is Disneyland Paris.
In 1992, the company opened Disneyland Paris, a 5,510-acre development in Marne-la-Vallee. The resort, which Disney owns a 51% interest in, consists of hotels, shopping centers, a 27-hole golf facility, Disneyland Park, and Walt Disney Studios Park.
A much smaller operation is the company's Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, a 310-acre resort located on Lantau Island that Disney owns 48% of (Hong Kong's government owns the remaining 52%). In late 2016, this resort plans to open up its eighth themed area based on Marvel's Iron Man.
In addition to the aforementioned operations, Disney also owns 43% of the Shanghai Disney Resort. With construction in progress and operations set to commence by the end of 2015, Disney's stake in the 1,000-acre resort will give the company its second nice piece of real estate in China and its third in Asia as a whole.
Finally, we arrive at Tokyo Disney Resort, a 494-acre theme park located in Japan. Although it would be nice for Disney to claim an equity piece in the business like it has with its other international locations, the business can only lay claim to a royalty agreement whereby the park's owner (Oriental Land Co.) pays the business an undisclosed percentage of its revenue.
Disney's peers have much less exposure internationally
When it comes to size and popularity, Disney's theme parks are second to none, but when it comes to quantity, it's hard to beat Six Flags. According to Six Flags, the company is the largest theme park operator in the world as measured by theme park count. With 18 locations currently in operation, the business makes for an interesting prospect for the Foolish investor, but with just two of those abroad (one in Mexico City and the other in Montreal), it's not a great play for investors who are looking for international exposure.
Another big player in the quantity arena is SeaWorld. With 11 parks in operation, five of which fit in the list of North America's top 20, this water-loving entertainment business is an interesting prospect for investors who are looking for alternative theme parks. However, the business has one downside; it has no international exposure.
The only company with a portfolio anywhere near as large as that of Disney is Comcast. According to the company's most recent annual report, it owned the Wet 'n Wild water park in Florida, as well as two major resorts, Universal Orlando and Universal Hollywood. Outside of this network, however, Comcast also licenses its Universal brand out to third parties that own Universal Studios Japan and Universal Studios Singapore.
Disney has an impressive and diversified asset base that's difficult to compete with. On top of being the largest business in the theme park/resort market, the entertainment giant has broad exposure not just within the US, but also across Asia and in Europe. While this kind of diversification does not guarantee success, it does illustrate the market presence of Disney, and also shows that some parts of its business can still perform attractively even in the event of an economic or market correction. Given this trait, it's pretty easy to guess that Disney won't make you rich overnight but, instead (and more importantly), the company has what it takes to create a great deal of shareholder value over the long run.