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Disney's rebound picks up steam
After beating analysts' expectations four quarters in a row, Disney is making a powerful comeback.
By Michael Sivy, MONEY Magazine editor-at-large

NEW YORK (MONEY) - High-quality blue chips, such as the stocks on the Sivy 70 list, have been having a bad time over the past couple of weeks. Recent earnings reports for Target, Sara Lee, Cisco, AIG and Viacom have all disappointed shareholders.

Each company has its own specific reasons for falling short. But there are some general economic concerns that have hurt the overall business climate.

After 10 straight quarters of above-average economic growth, real GDP rose a measly 1.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2005. That speed bump took a toll on consumer confidence, even though robust 4.8 percent growth in the first quarter put the economy back on track.

Fears of inflation, rising interest rates and specifically the high price of gasoline have all raised consumer anxiety. In May, the University of Michigan consumer sentiment index dropped back to where it was last October. That was the sharpest one-month decline in more than 25 years.

The factors that weighed on confidence are legitimate concerns, but they shouldn't override the strongly positive fundamentals driving the economy. Growth rates may fluctuate over the next four quarters, but on average the economy should continue to grow at a healthy rate.

Unemployment is an exceptionally low 4.7 percent, which helps bolster consumer spending. Despite the psychological impact of oil prices, the run up in gasoline costs has eaten up only about 1 percent of consumers' disposable income.

The important fact to focus on is that large, high-quality growth stocks have lagged most other parts of the market, including value stocks as well as small- and mid-caps. In fact, P/Es for big growth stocks remain at or slightly below their historical average.

That means investors still have the opportunity to add attractively priced big growth stocks to their portfolios, particularly if they look for those that are still reasonably priced but are showing market leadership.

Disney is a prime example. Shortly after Robert Iger took over as CEO as of Oct. 1, replacing Michael Eisner, I wrote that Disney looked attractive, although it might take a couple of quarters for earnings momentum to get up to speed.

In fact, Disney beat analysts' consensus estimates in both the first and second fiscal quarter (ended April 1). In the most recent quarter, earnings from movies were weak but ABC, ESPN and other broadcasting business were up, as were theme park earnings, despite fears that high gas prices would discourage attendance.

As a result, Disney's share price has risen 15 percent over the past six months and has broken through a two-year high. By contrast, both Viacom and Time Warner (owner of this Web site) are down over the same period.

Disney (Research) still has room to improve its results, particularly at the movie studios. And on balance, analysts have grown more enthusiastic about the stock. Projections of further gains range from 15 percent to 30 percent.

At a current $30 a share, Disney is trading at 18.3 times projected 2007 earnings. Analysts expect 11 percent growth this year, with a pickup to nearly 13 percent annually over the next five years.

That seems like a reasonable price for a stock that has been beating its targets. As a kicker, two weeks ago the company bought Pixar, the computer-animation firm. As a result, Steve Jobs is now Disney's largest shareholder. And he'll get the chance to help Disney create successful Internet businesses that aren't even included yet in the company's above-average growth projections.

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