Investors assuming that buying into Walt Disney (DIS -2.60%) would be a slam dunk late last year with the arrival of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and favorable theme park trends may be scratching their heads as we approach Tuesday's quarterly report. The fundamentals appear to be holding up, but the stock price isn't living up to its end of the bargain.
Disney stock has surrendered 23% of its value since hitting an all-time high of $122.08 six months ago, which oddly enough came on the same day that it was about to post fiscal third-quarter results.
That quarter was problematic for two reasons: ESPN, and decelerating revenue growth. Disney conceded that it's continuing to lose subscribers for its premier sports programming network. It also posted 5% year-over-year growth in revenue, Disney's slowest year-over-year top-line growth in two years. Disney's profit per share climbed 13% -- ahead of market expectations -- but the market was more concerned with slowing top-line growth, and the dimming prospects for its costly sports network.
Disney picked up the pace three months later, with revenue growth climbing 9% and adjusted profitability soaring 35%. Disney's two largest operating segments -- media networks and theme parks, accounting for a combined 75% of the revenue mix -- posted double-digit percentage revenue growth. However, the stock has yet to recover to last summer's lofty levels.
This sets the stage for Tuesday afternoon, when Disney steps up to deliver its fiscal first-quarter results. Analysts are holding out continuing acceleration on the top line. They see revenue of $14.76 billion, 10% ahead of the prior year's holiday quarter.
It won't be easy. Star Wars: The Force Awakens has shattered box office records, but a lot of the film's revenue will be scored beyond the quarter that ended in December. Media networks will be a challenge, and not just because of the perpetual declines at ESPN, Disney Channel, and other cable properties as a result of the cord-cutting revolution. Disney rolled out the SEC Network during the summer of 2014, giving a non-organic boost to the past few quarters. That has padded the results through the past five quarters, but this will be the first time that it doesn't have that incremental pop.
It will be up to the rest of Disney's segments to deliver double-digit revenue growth. That's certainly feasible for consumer products given the mid-quarter rollout of new Star Wars merchandise. Disney's theme parks also appear to have come through with another quarter of record attendance and per-capita spending.
With the stock continuing to slump -- it has closed in the double digits for 17 consecutive trading days -- it's going to need a strong quarter to get back on track. Disney will need to prove to Wall Street that it can post encouraging financials without firing on all cylinders. We'll know if it can do that shortly after Tuesday's market close.