World

Disney Has ‘Turned the Corner’ After a Strong Quarter, Iger Says

Robert A. Iger has insisted for months that his turnaround plan for Disney was working. But distinct proof has largely been elusive, and investors, as evidenced by the company’s underperforming stock price and multiple proxy campaigns by activists for board seats, have been hesitant to buy in.

On Wednesday, Mr. Iger delivered proof.

Disney’s per-share earnings for the most recent quarter totaled $1.22, or 23 percent more than Wall Street had expected. Breaking from a long practice of not providing guidance about profit, Disney said per-share earnings for its full fiscal year would increase by at least 20 percent compared with 2023, in part because of record highs in revenue, profit and operating margins at its theme parks.

Mr. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, announced a $3 billion stock buyback plan, the company’s first since 2018, and a cash dividend of 45 cents a share, a 50 percent increase compared with the previous dividend, which was paid in January.

Disney’s streaming service had been expected to lose $400 million in the quarter. Instead, losses were trimmed to $138 million, as Mr. Iger reiterated that streaming would be profitable by the fall. Disney+ subscribers dipped 1.3 million in the quarter, as expected given a monthly price increase. But Disney said the service was on track to add at least 5.5 million subscribers in the current quarter.

Some investors have been worried about Disney’s ability to generate free cash flow, a closely followed measure of financial health, at a time when its television business has been undercut by streaming services. Disney, however, said it was on track to deliver $8 billion in free cash flow this year, nearing prepandemic levels.

“Just one year ago, we outlined an ambitious plan to return the Walt Disney Company to a period of sustained growth and shareholder value creation,” Mr. Iger said in a statement. “Our strong performance this past quarter demonstrates we have turned the corner.”

The results come amid severe pressure on Disney from activist investors, including Trian Fund Management, which is seeking multiple board seats as it pushes for streaming profitability and a clear plan for chief executive succession, something that has bedeviled Disney. Trian, founded by Nelson Peltz, has cited Disney’s depressed stock price as its motivation, along with poor results at the box office for Marvel, Lucasfilm and Disney Animation movies.

Disney sees a revenge story: Mr. Peltz is aligned with Ike Perlmutter, who was ousted from an executive job at Disney, and Jay Rasulo, a former Disney executive who was passed over for chief executive in 2015 and resigned. Disney has asked shareholders to reject Trian and another activist investor, Blackwells Capital, arguing that giving them board seats would slow the company’s turnaround effort. (Mr. Peltz waged an unsuccessful campaign for a Disney shake-up last year.)

Back to top button