Long-time readers may recall that I became interested in DIS in late 2009, the company acquired Marvel Entertainment, a stock I held, for stock and cash.
I hadn’t looked at DIS for years before that. I quickly learned that DIS was a conglomerate, that is, a type of company where the most useful analysis comes taking the sum of its constituent parts.
I knew the company’s movie business had been struggling for some time and the theme parks were being hit hard by recession. Still, I was more than mildly surprised that ESPN (plus other media that we can safely ignore) made up somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 of DIS’s operating earnings. Why did they still call it Disney?
Given that the parks are a highly cyclical business and movies moderately so–meaning the PE applied to those earnings should be relatively low–and that ESPN was showing all the characteristics of a secular growth business–meaning high PE–I thought that ESPN represented at least 80% of the market capitalization of DIS. (That’s despite the fact that the market would apply a higher than normal multiple to cyclically depressed results).
So DIS was basically ESPN with bells and whistles.
ESPN’s turning point
In 2012, ESPN made a major effort to enter the UK sports entertainment market. To my mind, this wasn’t a particularly good sign, since it implied ESPN believed the domestic market was maturing. Worse, ESPN lost the bidding, closing out its path to growth through geographic expansion.
It seemed to me that DIS management, which I regard as excellent, understood clearly what was happening. It began to redirect corporate cash flow away from ESPN and toward the movie and theme park business, which had better growth prospects, and where it has since had unusually good success.
Over the past two fiscal years (DIS’s accounting year ends in September), the company’s line of business results look like this:
ESPN + revenues up by +11.9%, operating earnings by +6%
parks revenues up by +12%, op earnings +24%
movies revenues up by +30%, op earnings +74%
merchandise revenues up by +4.6%, op earnings +33%.
the valuation issue
ESPN has gone ex growth. This implies these earnings no longer deserve a premium PE multiple. To me, the fact that ESPN now treats WWE as a sport (!!) just underlines its troubles.
The other businesses are booming. But they’re also cyclical. So while improving efficiency implies multiple expansion, earnings approaching a cyclical high note implies at least some multiple contraction.
Because the two businesses are so different, I think Wall Street is making a mistake in treating earnings from the two as more or less equal.
DIS will most likely earn $6 a share or so this fiscal year. That will be something like $3 from ESPN and $3 from the rest.
Take the parks… first. Let’s say I’d be willing to pay 18x earnings for their earnings. If that’s the right number, then these businesses make up $54 a share in DIS value.
Now ESPN. If we assume that the worst is over for ESPN in terms of subscriber and revenue-per-subscriber losses, we can argue that the future earnings stream looks like a bond’s. If we think that ESPN should yield, say, 5% (a 20x earnings multiple), that would mean ESPN is worth $60 of DIS’s market cap. If we’d still on the downslope, that figure could be a lot too high.
$54 + $60 = $114. Current stock price: $109.
my bottom line
My back of the envelope calculation for the parks… segment may be a bit too low. I could also be persuaded that my figure for ESPN is too rich, but it would take a lot to make me want to move the needle higher for it.
Yes, most of DIS’s earnings are US-sourced, so the company could be a big winner from domestic income tax reform.
But if I were to be holding a fully valued stock on the idea of a tax reform boost, I’d prefer one with more solid underpinnings. At $90, maybe the stock is interesting. But I think ESPN–the multiple as much as the future earnings–remains a significant risk.