The triple digits were fun while they lasted for Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS) and its shareholders. The stock closed above $100 every single trading day since Dec. 7 last year until buckling under earlier this month. Disney stock has closed in the double digits for 13 consecutive trading days, but it's starting to inch its way back higher.
A stock price is just a number, but with the media giant trading 18% below the all-time highs it set 25 months ago one has to wonder if we've hit peak Disney. Things don't have to be that way. There are still a few things that can go right for the House of Mouse. Let's look at some of the catalysts that can push Disney stock back into the good graces of investors.
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1. Disney needs to strike a deal with Altice
There are plenty of long-term trends working against Disney when it comes to its meandering media networks division. Cord cutters are kissing Disney Channel and ESPN goodbye, and the popularity of streaming platforms and binge viewing are making ABC and its peers less relevant. Disney will be spending the next two years trying to give its own streaming options a shot, but there's a more immediate concern when it comes to Altice USA.
Disney is in tense negotiations with the country's fourth largest cable provider. If the two companies don't come to terms by the end of this week, Atlice's Optimum subscribers may have to get by without Disney's media properties. Altice is running ads, telling customers that Disney is asking for hundreds of millions of dollars in new fees to keep running, something that may seem extreme given the sluggish ratings at ESPN and anemic state of the cable industry.
We don't know Disney's side of the story, but it's easy to see how this can end badly for the media giant. BTIG's Rich Greenfield suggests that Altice may offer its subscribers a roughly $12 discount to offset the departure of Disney-owned channels. Disney has more to lose here, because what happens if most of its customers would prefer $12 over Disney content?
Completing the negotiations won't be enough. Disney needs to make sure that it's not giving away its networks. Altice may serve just 5 million stateside cable subscribers, but it sets the tone for negotiations with larger cable and satellite television providers.
2. New rides and attractions need to deliver
Disney announced some pretty impressive additions for Disney World and to a lesser extent Disneyland this summer. We've known about the 14-acre Star Wars Land expansion coming to both coasts in 2019 and Disney World's Toy Story Land arriving next summer. However, Disney also unveiled upcoming rides featuring characters from Ratatouille, Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, and Tron. Mickey Mouse will even be getting his first ride.
The world's largest theme park operator can use a boost. Attendance dipped at its domestic theme parks last year, and turnstile clicks have been uninspiring so far this year. Disney will need the fresh rides to deliver, and the one near-term catalyst on that front would be if Toy Story Land arrives sooner rather than later to Disney World in 2018.
3. Retaking the multiplex crown would be nice
It was Disney's studio -- and not media networks -- that was the weakest of Disney's three largest segments in its latest quarter with double-digit percentage declines in revenue and operating profit. After dominating the box office in 2015 and 2016 Disney has proven mortal in 2017. The top superhero movie this year is Wonder Woman, not a Marvel property. The movie that sparked new life at movie theaters earlier this month -- It -- is also not a Disney film. After scoring three of the year's top four movies in back-to-back years Disney has just two of this year's dozen highest grossing films.
Disney's luck should change in the next few months. Star Wars: The Last Jedi will obviously dominate the holidays, but the stock can move higher before December if some of the other films in the pipeline hit gold first. Thor: Ragnarok in October and Pixar's Coco in November should draw large crowds.
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