Disney: Getting A Good Return?

| About: The Walt (DIS)


Disney has spent about $13.05 billion on stock buybacks in the last 12 quarters.

In addition to cutting back the outstanding shares, the company has avoided paying dividends of over $432 million over that time.

I will discuss how good (or bad) the return on investment has been for the buybacks.


When a company buys back its own stock, we often like to write about how great that is -- or, how bad that is, depending on the opinion of the writer. What we don't often see is a quantitative analysis of what the return for the company actually was for past buybacks.

It is important to calculate the buyback ROI (return on investment). If a company could use cash to expand the business at a rate of x and the buyback return computes to a rate of y, then, as a shareholder, you want to see y > x. That is obviously a bit of oversimplification. There are other factors for company management to consider when it comes to buybacks. However, a solid rate of return compared to other options should be very high on the priority list.

When a company buys back stock and the price rises, that is good! It will achieve a positive Buyback ROI. When the stock goes lower than the buyback price, that is bad! The company's Buyback ROI will normally be negative in that case. Note that saved dividend payouts can push the Buyback ROI into positive territory even if the stock goes lower from the buyback point.

I won't go into the nitty gritty of the math behind all the calculations. For those that wish to know how I attained the figures below, I highly recommend this article that explains it quite well. I will summarize the calculations which should be sufficient for those readers with an understanding of the principles.

Disney's Past Buybacks

While Disney (NYSE:DIS) has not been as hyper-aggressive in buybacks as some companies, it has been active. Here is a graph of the outstanding shares:

DIS Shares Outstanding Chart

DIS Shares Outstanding data by YCharts

Disney spent $13.05 billion over the last 12 quarters on stock and the value of those shares as of Q1 2014 was about $21.60 billion. That equates to a total gain of about 65.5%, but does not tell us the annualized gain of either the shares themselves nor the $432 million in dividend payouts saved during that time. To get a figure that is meaningful, we need to do the slightly painful calculation of the Buyback ROI.

Looking at the last 12 quarters reveals the following history:

Time Period Shares Bought Avg Price of Purchase
Q2 2011 20,032,786 41.36
Q3 2011 35,312,088 40.71
Q4 2011 58,293,285 33.87
Q1 2012 23,578,731 34.39
Q2 2012 22,160,722 40.59
Q3 2012 8,848,030 43.40
Q4 2012 19,313,117 50.95
Q1 2013 21,277,643 49.63
Q2 2013 16,480,285 53.76
Q3 2013 12,817,890 63.42
Q4 2013 22,015,900 63.82
Q1 2014 20,468,452 76.97

(Source: DIS 10-Q and 10-K filings)

The following steps are taken to determine the buyback ROI:

  1. For each quarter, multiply the shares bought by the avg price = amount spent
  2. Multiply the cumulative shares bought by the dividend paid that quarter (if any -- DIS pays annually) = dividend payout saved
  3. Add the dividend payout saved to the amount spent = cash inflow for the quarter (which is a negative number until the very end)
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 for the 12 quarter analysis
  5. For the last quarter, multiply the cumulative shares purchased by the final quarter share price and add that number into the cash inflow for the quarter (the final result is a positive number). This is the final value of all the shares the company purchased.
  6. Finally, all of the 12 calculated cash inflows (which includes 11 negative number and 1 positive number) are run through an internal rate of return calculation to produce the Buyback ROI figure.

For DIS in the last 12 quarters, the Buyback ROI was an impressive 42.1%. As a shareholder in the company, I am very glad they chose to make the buybacks that they did. It turned out to be an excellent use of funds.

By comparing the Buyback ROI to the "Buyback Strategy" and to the "Buyback Effectiveness" we can know how well the company picked the exact timing of the buybacks it made. The article that I linked above uses those two terms to mean the following:

  • Buyback Strategy: the CAGR of the total return of the stock during the time of the analysis. This can be thought of as the "baseline" ROI number that the buyback would have achieved if the stock had no peaks or valleys. In other words, if the stock simply moved in a straight line this would be identical to the Buyback ROI.
  • Buyback Effectiveness: a comparison of the actual Buyback ROI to the Buyback Strategy: (1 + Buyback ROI) / (1 + Buyback Strategy) - 1. If a company has a positive Buyback Effectiveness, then it did a good job buying on the dips and avoiding the peaks. Think of this number as a scorecard measuring the short-term trading ability of the company.

Our final figures are as follows:

Buyback ROI: 42.1%

Buyback Strategy: 24.2%

Buyback Effectiveness: 14.5%

You can see from the figures above that Disney has achieved a great ROI from its buybacks. By being good (or lucky) at buying on the dips, the company has a much better Buyback ROI than the (also strong) Buyback Strategy would predict. The purchases made in Q4 2011 were a big part of why the Buyback Effectiveness figure was a healthy 14.5%.


There are many other factors of buybacks to consider whenever evaluating any company. Does the company use a lot of stock options to pay employees? Are the buybacks used as a desperate measure to bump up EPS for a business that has slow growth? The list of pros and cons for buybacks is long and eminently debatable. Those are important but are beyond the scope of this article.

The main priority of a company buyback should be to get a return on investment that is better than other options for the funds. Buying back stock when it is undervalued is an excellent use of cash. In Disney's case over the last 12 quarters they achieved an exemplary Buyback ROI of 42.1%.

Disclosure: The author is long DIS. The author wrote this article themselves, and it expresses their own opinions. The author is not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). The author has no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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