Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I have no doubt these numbers were pulled from someplace other than "thin air"

I have no opinion on the price of a share of Disney, but as of now I'm a bit more inclined to short Credit Suisse:
Here's something you don't see very often. The Walt Disney Company suffered a major bomb over the weekend, opening The Lone Ranger to a pitiful $48 million 5-day box office, forcing the studio to lose an anticipated $150 million on the big-budget Western. But if you're a Disney stockholder, things are still looking up. According to Variety the studio's stock is up 1.3%. Why? You probably already know the answer: Star Wars. 
OK, partial credit goes to Monsters University and Iron Man 3, two huge hits that help soften the blow of The Lone Ranger's failure. But Credit Suisse analyst Michael Senno estimates that Disney will make $733 million in profit-- that's $1.2 billion in global ticket sales-- from Star Wars Episode VII, which means that the company still ought to remain a solid investment. He didn't pull that number out from thin air, of course-- the final Star Wars prequel, Revenge of the Sith, made $850 million worldwide, and of course Disney's last giant hit The Avengers was a huge global success, making $1.5 billion. If anything, $1.2 billion for Star Wars Episode VII might be lowballing it. 
First, a quick belaboring of the obvious...

1. Movies are an unpredictable business, particularly movies scheduled for release two years from now.

2. Senno is predicting a extraordinarily rare event. According to Wikipedia, only five films have broken $1.2 billion in global ticket sales 

1 Avatar $2,782,275,172 2009
2 Titanic $2,185,372,302 1997
3 The Avengers $1,511,757,910 2012
4 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 $1,341,511,219 2011
5 Iron Man 3  (currently playing) $1,211,010,987 2013

3. Though the data jumps around quite a bit, when we correct for inflation, there's reason to believe that the box office of the Star Wars franchise is trending down. With inflation, the first film made far more than the Phantom Menace (check my numbers but I believe almost twice) which made more than considerably more than the latest.

Of course, it's entirely possible that this reboot will hit Avengers territory -- all of the films in the franchise have been enormously profitable -- but the idea that someone can forecast this with any level of confidence is simply silly.

None of this is meant to be taken as a comment on the value of Disney stock which could be badly undervalued as far as I know. What this is a reminder of is how often we are fed unbelievable numbers and, more troublingly, how often established institutions are willing to put their reputations behind them.

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