DIS shares went on a fabulous run after the company acquired Marvel in late 2009, moving from $26 a share to $120 in early 2015. Since then, however, the stock has been moving sideways to down–despite rising, consensus estimate-beating earnings reports in a stock market that has generally been rising.
What’s going on?
The basic thing to understand about analyzing a conglomerate like DIS is that aggregate earnings and earnings growth matter far less than evaluating each business in the conglomerate by itself and assembling a sum of the parts valuation, including synergies, of course.
In the case of DIS, the company consists of ESPN + television; theme parks; movies; merchandising related mostly to parks and movies; and odds and ends–which analysts typically ignore.
In late 2009, something like 2/3 of the company’s overall earnings and, in my view, 80%+ of the DIS market value came from ESPN.
At that time, ex Pixar, the movie business was hit and miss; the theme parks, always very sensitive to the business cycle, were at their lows; because of this, merchandise sales were similarly in the doldrums. ESPN, on the other hand, was a secular growth business, with expanding reach in the global sports world and, consequently, dependably expanding profits.
ESPN profits not only made up the majority of the DIS conglomerate’s earnings, the market also awarded those profits the highest PE multiple among the DIS businesses.
At the time, I thought that if truth in labeling were an issue, the company should rename itself ESPN–although that would probably have detracted from the value of the remaining, Disney-branded, business lines.
Then 2012 rolled around.