Disney Shares Drop Almost 50%, Destroying Shareholders

Long-time shareholders of Walt Disney Company are enraged. Its shares are down 45% over the last year, and much more from when they peaked last November. Disney has lost over $150 billion of its market cap since then.

Disney was the envy of the multimedia industry for years. Under former CEO Bob Iger, it bested the results of other industry giants from Time Warner, to Fox, to Paramount, to CBS. Its studios put out a string of wildly successful films from franchises, which included Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel.

However, Disney’s theme parks were almost decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It had to shutter these parks and lay off tens of thousands of people. Over the past several months, traffic to these parks has moved up to near pre-pandemic levels but may level off.

Disney’s most recently reported quarter was mediocre, given that it was rebounding from the COVID-19 pandemic. Revenue rose 23% to $19.2 billion. Net income fell 48% to $470 million. Bob Chapek, the company’s CEO commented: “Our strong results in the second quarter, including fantastic performance at our domestic parks and continued growth of our streaming services—with 7.9 million Disney+ subscribers added in the quarter and total subscriptions across all our DTC offerings exceeding 205 million—once again proved that we are in a league of our own.”

What Chapek did not say is that the growth of Disney+ slowed considerably. In a crowded field dominated by Netflix and Amazon Prime, the sharp increase in Disney+ subscribers, until recently, is probably over. Disney has bet its future on the digital world, and that is not paying off.

Michael Morris and analysts at Wall Street’s Guggenheim recently downgraded Disney shares. He expressed concern that traffic to Disney theme parks will not improve much. He also worries about the billions of dollars the company must spend to maintain the growth of Disney+.

Investors in Disney have watched a huge portion of the company’s value be destroyed. If Morris is right, that is not over.

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