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3 Things That Can Take Disney Stock Past $100 Again

By Rick Munarriz – Mar 30, 2016 at 9:06AM

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The family-entertainment giant is closing in on the triple digits, and there are some catalysts that can make it happen soon.

Shares of Walt Disney (DIS -1.04%) are on the move again. The stock is now a decent trading day away from closing above $100. If so, this would be the first time that Disney stock has closed in the triple digits since mid-January. 

Disney stock has topped $100 just once during intraday trading in that dry stretch, but it didn't hang above the chin-up bar by the end of the day.

Even bears would have to concede that Disney will find its way back above $100 again, but there are some catalysts that would make that happen sooner rather than later. Let's go over a few of things that take Disney stock into the triple digits -- and keep it that way.

1. ESPN subs can grow again
Cord-cutters are real. Millennials and even older budget-minded TV buffs are kissing their fat cable and satellite television bills goodbye. All of Disney's cable properties have experienced a decline in domestic subscribers, but ESPN is the cash cow of the media giant's cable empire. Stateside ESPN subscribers peaked at 100 million in 2010. It has fallen from 99 million to 95 million to 92 million over the past two fiscal years.

That trend reversing would be a big deal to the stock. It's why Disney stock dipped below $100 last summer, and if momentum turned in a positive manner, there's no reason why the stock wouldn't rise again.

Investors may not have to cling to the slim hope that a turnaround is in the works. 

"In the last couple of months, we have actually seen an uptick in ESPN subs," CEO Bob Iger revealed during February's earnings call.   

It could be just a blip, but there could be an encouraging development in Dish Network's (DISH 0.64%) Sling TV. Iger noted during the same earnings call that he's "pleased" with what he's hearing about Dish Network's streaming television service, a light package that does include ESPN. Traditional ESPN subscribers may have peaked, but the ability to pick up new ones through Dish Network's online platform or Disney's own streaming offering could help turn the tide.

2. Shanghai could be a game changer
Shanghai Disneyland opens in June, and the narrative to this point has been about the park's delayed opening (it was supposed to open in 2015) and rumored cost overruns. Disney owns just a minority stake in the new resort, but it's still on the hook for a lot of the expenses. It expects to incur $300 million in pre-opening costs this fiscal year with a lot of that taking place during the upcoming fiscal third quarter.

There's also chatter of large parts of the Shanghai Disneyland not being ready in time for the June 16 opening. Closer to home, some are starting to see cuts in operations as a sign that Disney's bracing for some near-term pain in the division's bottom line.

Let's paint a prettier picture. Disney dramatically raised its annual pass prices for Disneyland and Disney World last month, and folks don't seem to be flinching. This should help offset some of the sting in pre-opening costs in Shanghai. Disney also saw its Shanghai resort hotels fill up and opening day park tickets sell out when the resort began online bookings on Monday. Disney has had its hits and misses with its park openings, but there are more reasons to be optimistic here than pessimistic.

3. Star Wars can be the gift that keeps on giving
With Star Wars: The Force Awakens shattering box office records, it wasn't a surprise to see Disney's studio entertainment division kick in with a 46% year-over-year growth spurt in revenue and an 86% surge in segment operating income. Things should only get better from here.

The movie continued filling up multiplexes well into the fiscal second quarter, and even then, this isn't the end of the sci-fi saga. It hits the retail market on Tuesday with big potential on both the DVD and digital download fronts. With sequels, spin-offs, and theme park attractions in the works, it's a franchise that will continue to reward Disney for its shrewd purchase. However, before all of those things materialize, we still have a lot of money for Star Wars: The Force Awakens to deliver in the current fiscal year. 

Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. 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.

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