Recovery Brings Some Magic Back to Disney's Kingdom

At least one analyst predicts that Disney's business is set to pick up as the economy starts to recover.
At least one analyst predicts that Disney's business is set to pick up as the economy starts to recover.

When a recession hits, taking a trip to Disneyland is probably not top of every family's to-do list. As consumers' discretionary income dries up, Disney's (DIS) travel business -- including theme parks and cruise ships -- basically grinds to a halt as customers save money for essentials. The company's media division also is susceptible to the drops in ad spending that come when companies start conserving cash.

Overall, Disney is probably more vulnerable to economic downturns than many businesses, and this recession hasn't been kind. For the 2009 fiscal year, the company posted a 20% drop in its earnings per share and a 7% decline in the revenue generated by parks and resorts. But some Wall Street analysts already are seeing reasons to be optimistic about Disney's outlook.

Growing Revenue and Profit

One of these is Soleil Securities analyst Alan Gould, who Tuesday upgraded the stock to buy from hold with a $42 price target. Gould thinks the company could generate better-than-expected revenue in affiliate fees from ESPN. Even more telling, he believes two new massive Disney cruise ships -- called "Dream" and "Fantasy" -- in the works could break even in 2011 and generate between $100 million to $150 million in 2012 profits. The analyst also notes that Disney theme parks have been offering less in the way of discounts, which speaks well of general attendance.

The company's entertainment division, which saw profits fall to $175 million in the last fiscal year from $1.2 billion in 2007, could pick up dramatically over the next year, thanks in part to releases of Toy Story 3 and The Sorcerer's Apprentice, according to Gould. All told, he projects the company could take home $511 million in profit in its 2010 fiscal year and $653 million in profit in its 2011 fiscal year.

During the last recession, which brought a devastating drop in tourism in the early 2000s, it took Disney a couple of years to find its footing. The company floundered between 2002 and 2004 as its theme-park attendance plummeted and its film division produced a series of box-office stinkers, including The Alamo, which cost more than $100 million to produce and grossed just $22 million at the box office. In 2005, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner was ousted, but by that time, profits were growing nicely.

The company's performance in this recession, it seems, could play out along a similar timeline. If that's the case, Disney could start to rebound this year, providing one possible sign of an economic recovery.