Disney 2nd-quarter results top analyst forecasts; shares rise modestly

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Revenue gains at Disney’s parks and movie studio led to a 32 per cent increase in net income during the January-March quarter. The results, which topped analyst expectations Tuesday, showed that the company’s record-setting investments in a new cruise ship and multiple theme park upgrades last year are starting to pay off.

Net income grew to $1.51 billion, or 83 cents per share. Factoring out one-time items, adjusted earnings came to 79 cents per share, beating the 77 cents expected by analysts surveyed by FactSet.

Revenue grew 10 per cent to $10.55 billion, also topping the $10.49 billion expected by analysts.

Parks and resorts revenue rose 14 per cent to $3.30 billion, thanks to higher attendance and guest spending at U.S. parks in Anaheim, Calif., and Orlando, Fla.

“People have been looking for parks to really step it up. We saw them really step it up in this quarter,” said Barton Crocket, an analyst with brokerage Lazard Capital Markets.

The results were also boosted by the Disney Fantasy cruise ship, which launched in March of last year.

Movie studio revenue grew 13 per cent to $1.34 billion, and the division returned to profitability following a bruising $200 million write-down last year after the sci-fi action movie “John Carter” flopped.

Revenue from TV networks like ESPN grew 6 per cent to $4.96 billion. Although fees from distributors powered ESPN revenues higher, audiences and ad revenue fell at broadcast network ABC.

Disney’s investment in parks fell by nearly half to $1.1 billion in the first six months of the fiscal year, from $2.1 billion a year ago. Analysts hope the decline in capital spending means the company will return more cash to shareholders in the form of more share buybacks.

The company’s cash balance increased to $3.95 billion from $3.39 billion six months earlier.

CEO Bob Iger said the company doesn’t see sizable acquisition targets on the horizon, so it will consider raising dividends or share buybacks. “We’ve also never really been a hoarder of cash,” he told analysts on a conference call. “It’ll be a good problem for us to have.”

Investors are also looking for a boost to earnings from a revival of the “Star Wars” franchise after Disney acquired Lucasfilm in December for $4.06 billion, following its blockbuster purchases of Marvel and Pixar in recent years. Disney has said it is planning to release a new “Star Wars” movie every year starting in 2015 and has outsourced production of console video games for the franchise to Electronic Arts Inc. in a cost-saving move.

Disney’s next quarter will feature results from the Marvel movie, “Iron Man 3,” which opened in the U.S. last weekend. The film had the second-best domestic opening ever (after “The Avengers”) and has already grossed $711 million worldwide after launching overseas in late April.

Shares of Burbank, Calif.-based Walt Disney Co. were up 3 cents at $66.10 in after-hours trading after the results were released. The stock closed up $1.01, or 1.6 per cent, at $66.07 in the regular session.