Disney's (DIS -4.01%) stock has been on sale since the company posted quarterly earnings results in early August -- shares quickly slumped by 20%, and they remain about 16% below their summer high.
Some investors, myself included, have seen that drop as a nice opportunity to load up on a premium media business at discount prices. Disney's management seems to agree: In the weeks following the earnings report, executives spent over $2 billion on share repurchases. "The market is giving us an opportunity to deposit stock at meaningfully lower prices," Chief Operating Officer Tom Staggs said at an investor conference last week, "and so we've taken big advantage of that opportunity."
If you're thinking about following Disney's lead into this investment, here are a few things to know about its current business trends.
The ad-based TV business is struggling
Disney collects profits on everything from parks and resorts, to theater tickets, to toy licenses. But its media division is the single biggest business segment, accounting for more than half of all earnings.
Media networks generate cash through distribution fees, like the ones Disney charges cable companies for the right to carry channels like ESPN and Disney. The House of Mouse also gets significant income through selling advertising space on these TV platforms.
However, the media business is changing quickly, and not in a profitable way. The number of households subscribing to huge cable packages is down, and people are spending less time watching broadcast TV -- even if they're spending more time watching TV overall. So, Disney is having trouble finding growth in its biggest business: Operating profits there are up just 1.5% through the last nine months, compared to 19% for the rest of the business.
Consumer products sales are on fire
The good news for investors is that Disney's other operations are keeping the company in strong growth mode. The standout performer lately has been consumer products, which posted a 37% profit jump over the last three quarters.
Frozen- and Avengers-branded merchandise is flying off of store shelves, and Disney had already started to benefit from Star Wars product demand in June, even though retailers didn't start selling the items until September.
Thanks mainly to the consumer products division's 40% profit margin, which is the highest of Disney's five segments, the company's earnings are up 15% so far this fiscal year, to a record high $3.95 per share.
Key drivers ahead: From Star Wars to China
Disney has a busy year ahead of it. The studio business should get a nice boost from Pixar's first movie release in two years (The Good Dinosaur is due in theaters in November). Meanwhile, the Star Wars licensing bonanza will lift consumer products sales this quarter, leading up to the The Force Awakens' global launch in December. And next year's movie calendar includes another installment from that blockbuster franchise in addition to entries from the Disney Animation, Marvel, and Disney Pictures studios.
On the down side, an expensive new Shanghai, China, resort will dampen profits in 2016. Investors will have to wait a while before that property can establish itself. In August, management also downgraded their profit forecast for the media business, blaming those lower cable subscriber levels.
Still, the Shanghai resort is likely to contribute to growth for decades to come. While it isn't as clear how Disney will achieve strong media profit growth as the TV ecosystem gets disrupted, management is optimistic about its chances over the long run. "We believe that with Disney, ABC, ESPN, our products are really well-positioned," CEO Bob Iger said in last month's conference call. Executives backed up that bragging by retiring $2.4 billion worth of the company's stock after shares dipped over the last few weeks.