A Pirate's Life for Disney


Swashbucklers and seaworthy ships help guided Disney (NYS: DIS) to market-thumping quarterly results.

Avast, ye scurvy sums.

Revenue climbed 7% to $10.7 billion, fueled in part by the success of the fourth theatrical installment of its Pirates of the Caribbean movie series and the third vessel that was added to its fleet of family-friendly cruise ships. Earnings climbed 15% to $0.77 a share, or up 16% to $0.78 a share after backing out one-time restructuring and impairment items.

Analysts were only expecting a profit of $0.73 a share on $10.5 billion in revenue.

Obviously this is good news, but investors may not realize how welcome this pro-busting report was. Disney routinely trounced Wall Street's profit targets during the first few years of CEO Bob Iger's tenure, but the family entertainment giant had come up short in two of three previous periods.

Sources of strengths and weaknesses may surprise you.

Let's start at the box office. Cars 2, Thor, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides fared well at the corner multiplex, but studio revenue was essentially flat with operating profits falling sharply. How can this be? Well, it cost a lot of money to get the star-studded pirate flick to the silver screen. This season's slate also had to be pitted against Toy Story 3 and Iron Man 2 last year. As strong as this year's releases were on an absolute basis, we're looking at a decline in worldwide theatrical revenue on a relative basis.

On the upside, Disney's theme parks and resorts posted a 12% spike in revenue. We've seen regional amusement park operators Six Flags (NYS: SIX) and Cedar Fair (NYS: FUN) muster only single-digit top-line growth during the same three months, so this is impressive. How did Disney accomplish this feat, especially at a time when its Japanese parks were closed early in the quarter after the March earthquake? Well, while there were strong gains at its parks outside of France and Japan, the addition of Disney Dream to the leisure leader's cruise line greatly expanded its revenue-generating prowess for the non-landlubbers.

Disney's media networks were steady, with a 7% increase in its reliable cable channels lifting ABC out of a 1% decline. Operating profits did climb at a double-digit clip at both its cable and broadcasting divisions, though. Viacom (NYS: VIA) and CBS (NYS: CBS) fared better on both fronts during their quarterly reports last week, but Disney can't beat everybody.

Disney's consumer products and interactive media subsidiaries posted the largest revenue percentage gains, though Disney's gaming arm continues to lose problematic sums of money.

All in all, this was a throwback report. It was reminiscent of Iger's earlier quarters at the helm. It wasn't flashy, but it was more than enough to humble Wall Street.

Did you hear that ABC is canning Desperate Housewives after this season? Stay on top of the latest Disney news -- above and beyond the gossipy Wisteria Lane chatter -- by addingWalt Disney to My Watchlist.

At the time thisarticle was published Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. 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. Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz can usually be found at Walt Disney World. Not today, though. He does own shares in Disney. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

Copyright © 1995 - 2011 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.