Wall Street investors may look past an advertising rebound and a strong box office for Walt Disney Co and instead zero in on the outlook for its sprawling theme park unit as economic uncertainty grips consumers.
Disney, whose shares are down nearly 25 percent since a rare earnings miss for the fiscal second quarter, is expected to confirm trends established by Comcast Corp , Time Warner Inc and CBS Corp , which beat Wall Street forecasts with a mix of content licensing deals, movie box office receipts and strong ad growth.
Analysts predict the operator of TV networks ESPN and ABC, a movie studio, cruise line and theme parks on three continents, will report a rebound in results this quarter.
The rebound will likely be due to a healthy advertising market that fueled growth at the ESPN sports network and other cable channels that make up a large chunk of the company's business.
"The trends (at the cable networks) have been strong. I'd expect that to continue," Morningstar analyst Michael Corty said.
But in view of S&P's unprecedented downgrade of the long-term U.S. credit rating, investors may focus more on how a bleak economic outlook might spook the consumers on which Disney depends for everything from movie receipts to theme park spending and merchandise sales.
"A weaker economy could slow theme park traffic (which is a key risk in our opinion)," Stifel Nicolaus analyst Drew Crum wrote in a note to clients.
The just-ended quarter should get a lift from the heavy spring travel period around the Easter holiday plus the new Disney Dream cruise ship, analysts said. Investors will look for comments from executives about bookings for the coming quarters amid concerns about weak economic growth, high unemployment and the chance of another recession.
Disney's studio division, often a swing factor for results, generated massive international sales from the fourth "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, but faces tough comparisons with "Toy Story 3" last year, Nomura Securities analyst Michael Nathanson said in a research note. Most of the company's major movies for this year already have hit theaters.
Disney is expected to report fiscal third quarter earnings of 73 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Revenue is forecast to rise 4.5 percent from a year earlier to $10.5 billion.