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Disney streaming subscriber growth blows past estimates, as company beats on top and bottom line

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A performer dressed as Mickey Mouse entertains guests during the reopening of the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California, U.S., on Friday, April 30, 2021.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

If Disney+’s subscriber growth is any indication, the rumors that the global streaming market is nearing saturation have been proven untrue.

On Wednesday, the Walt Disney Company reported that total Disney+ subscriptions rose to 152.1 million during the fiscal third quarter, higher than the 147 million analysts had forecast, according to StreetAccount.

At the end of the fiscal third quarter, Hulu had 46.2 million subscribers and ESPN+ had 22.8 million. Combined, Hulu, ESPN+ and Disney+ have over 221 million streaming subscribers. Netflix, long the leader in the streaming space, had 220 million subscribers, according to the most recent tally.

Disney shares rose more than 6% after the closing bell.

The streaming space has been in a state of upheaval in recent weeks, as Netflix disclosed another drop in subscribers and Warner Bros. Discovery announced a shift in content strategy. While Netflix expects subscriber growth to rebound, uncertainty has left analysts and investors wondering what the future holds for the wider industry.

Also Wednesday, the company unveiled a new pricing structure that incorporates an advertising-supported Disney+ as part of an effort to make its streaming business profitable.

During the fiscal third quarter Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ combined to lose $1.1 billion, reflecting the higher cost of content on the services. Disney’s average revenue per user for Disney+ also decreased by 5% in the quarter in the U.S. and Canada due to more customers taking cheaper multiproduct offerings.

Starting Dec. 8 in the U.S., Disney+ with commercials will be $7.99 per month — currently the price of Disney+ without ads. The price of ad-free Disney+ will rise 38% to $10.99 — a $3 per month increase.

In addition, Disney lowered its 2024 forecast for Disney+ to 215 million to 245 million subscribers, down 15 million on both the low end and high end of the company’s previous guidance.

Disney had previously set its Disney+ guidance in December 2020 at 230 million to 260 million by the end of fiscal 2024. The company reaffirmed its expectation that Disney+ will become profitable by the end of its fiscal 2024 year.

Overall, Disney posted better-than-expected earnings on both the top and bottom line, bolstered by increased spending at its domestic theme parks.

Here are the results:

  • Earnings per share: $1.09 per share vs. 96 cents expected, according to a Refinitiv survey of analysts
  • Revenue: $21.5 billions vs. $20.96 billion expected, according to Refinitiv
  • Disney+ total subscriptions: 152.1 million vs 147.76 million expected, according to StreetAccount

Big quarter for parks

Disney’s parks, experiences and products division saw revenue increase 72% to $7.4 billion during the quarter, up from $4.3 billion during the same period last year. The company said it saw increases in attendance, occupied room nights and cruise ship sailings.

It also touted that its new Genie+ and Lightning Lane products helped boost average per capita ticket revenue during the quarter. These new digital features were introduced to curate guest experience and allow parkgoers to bypass lines for major attractions.

The company said it has been able to bring back in-park experiences such as character meet-and-greets, theatrical performances and nighttime events at Disneyland, which has allowed it to increase capacity at its parks, CEO Bob Chapek said during the company’s earnings call Wednesday. Disney has placed caps on attendance since it reopened after the initial round of pandemic closures in early 2020 and instituted a new online reservation system to control crowds.

“As it relates to demand, we have not yet seen demand abate at all and we still have many days when people cannot get reservations,” Christine McCarthy, Disney’s chief financial officer, said during the company’s earnings call. “So, we’re still seeing demand in excess of the reservations that we are making available for our guests.”

Per capita spending at domestic parks increased 10% during the most recent quarter, compared to the same quarter last year and is more than 40% higher than fiscal 2019, the company said. Occupancy at domestic hotels in the third quarter was 90%.

Chapek pointed to EPCOT’s new Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind, the launch of the Disney Wish and the opening of Avenges Campus in Paris Disneyland as enhanced offerings for guests that have driven traffic and revenue to this division.

McCarthy noted that international visitors to domestic parks have continued to be slow to return. Traditionally, those parkgoers account for around 17% to 20% of total guests.

“We expect international visitation when its fully back to actually be additive to margins, because those guests tend to stay longer at the parks and they spend more money when they’re there, as well,” she said.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. Comcast owns a stake in Hulu.

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Ford’s supply chain problems include blue oval badges for F-Series pickups

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A Ford F-150 pickup truck is offered for sale at a dealership on September 6, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.

Scott Olson | Getty Images

DETROIT – Recent supply chain problems for Ford Motor have included a small, yet important, part for the company and its vehicles – the blue oval badges that don nearly every vehicle for its namesake brand.

The Detroit automaker has experienced shortages with the Ford badges as well as the nameplates that specify the model, a Ford spokesman confirmed to CNBC. The Wall Street Journal first reported the problem, including badges for its F-Series pickups, on Friday, citing anonymous sources.

The issue is the latest is a yearslong supply chain crisis that has ranged from critical parts such as semiconductor chips and wire harnesses to raw materials and now, vehicle badges.  

The Journal reported a Michigan-based supplier called Tribar Technologies that has made badges for Ford in the past had to limit operations in August, after disclosing to Michigan regulators it had discharged industrial chemicals into a local sewer system.

A message seeking comment from Tribar was not immediately answered. Ford declined to comment on whether Tribar’s limited operations were connected to the automaker’s name-badge shortage.

A spokesman also declined to comment on how many vehicles have been impacted by the problem.

The report comes after Ford on Monday said said parts shortages have affected roughly 40,000 to 45,000 vehicles, primarily high-margin trucks and SUVs, that haven’t been able to reach dealers. Ford also said at the time that it expects to book an extra $1 billion in unexpected supplier costs during the third quarter.

The announcement earlier this week, including a pre-release of some earnings expectations, caused Ford’s stock to have its worst day in more than 11 years.

Separately, Ford on Thursday announced plans to restructure its global supply chain to “support efficient and reliable sourcing of components, internal development of key technologies and capabilities, and world-class cost and quality execution.”

Ford shares fall after company warns of extra $1 billion in costs
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Bed Bath & Beyond’s merchandise problems will make it hard to pull off a turnaround this holiday season

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A person exits a Bed Bath & Beyond store in New York City, June 29, 2022.

Andrew Kelly | Reuters

Bed Bath & Beyond is betting on a drastic change in strategy and well-recognized brands to revive its struggling business. 

But the retailer’s strained relationships with suppliers of products such as air fryers and stand-mixers – some of which were missing from shelves two holiday seasons ago – could leave stores without hot items once again. Out-of-stock products could cripple Bed Bath’s already-declining sales and push the company toward bankruptcy.

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Bed Bath is fighting to win back customers as it contends with a leadership shakeup, a mountain of debt and the aftermath of a meme-stock frenzy fueled by activist investor Ryan Cohen. On top of that, tensions with merchandise suppliers grew as the company’s problems worsened, according to former executives who recently left the company. They declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak about internal discussions.

Chief Executive Mark Tritton, hired in 2019 to oversee the company’s previous turnaround effort, got ousted by the board this year. Bed Bath’s merchandising chief was also pushed out. Chief Financial Officer Gustavo Arnal, who was integral in lining up a new loan for Bed Bath, died by suicide earlier this month. The company is now led by an interim CEO and interim CFO.

On a call with investors in late August, two days before Arnal’s death, company leaders announced the fresh financing and revealed a new merchandising strategy that heavily relies on national brands to get more people into stores. Under Tritton, Bed Bath launched and tried to grow nine exclusive brands. Bed Bath now intends to sharply scale back those private labels – including discontinuing several.

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Bed Bath has merchandise from its remaining store brands to fill shelves. It has deals with direct-to-consumer brands, such as mattress maker Casper, and is trying to court more of them. Yet to deliver on its new plan, Bed Bath must secure steady shipments from brands many shoppers recognize.

Bed Bath leaders say that the strategy shift has been well received. Interim CEO Sue Gove said in August that she’s even received thank you notes from vendors. 

“As previously shared, we are committed to delivering what our customers want, driving growth and profitability, and strengthening our financial position. We recognize the vital importance of our supplier partners and our team is working continuously with them, where support has been enthusiastic and high, particularly with our largest partners,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement. 

“They want us to win, by supporting the assortment changes previously announced to create the best experience for our shared customers.” Bed Bath plans to give an update on its vendor relationships and strategies when it reports fiscal second quarter earnings next week, she added. 

Over the past two years, however, Bed Bath has tested vendor relationships by making late payments, pushing aggressively into private labels and losing shoppers. Those tensions have intensified as financial troubles mounted, according to the former Bed Bath executives.

Make or break

A customer carries a shopping bag outside a Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. store in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Logan Cyrus | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Vendor relationships can make or break a retailer. Typically, suppliers ship goods and get reimbursed weeks or months later. The terms can change, however, if a retailer shows signs of financial distress – sometimes pushing a vendor to shorten the payment window, require cash on delivery or halt shipments.

Bed Bath has already agreed to tougher payment terms and advance payments for some suppliers, the company said in public filings. Company leaders acknowledged in a call with investors that it was managing vendor relationships on a week to week basis. 

Tension with vendors is often a major reason retailers are pushed toward restructuring. Debt-burdened Toys “R” Us filed for bankruptcy in September 2017, and later liquidated, shortly after its suppliers demanded cash on delivery ahead of the holiday season. Other retailers, such as appliance chain H.H. Gregg and electronics store RadioShack, suffered a similar fate as they struggled to keep shelves stocked and burned through cash due to vendors’ tightened payment terms. 

One factor working in Bed Bath’s favor is that it works with a vast number of vendors, and if needed, could replace one that wouldn’t ship to the retailer. Retailers like Toys “R” Us, as well as sporting goods chain Sports Authority – which liquidated as part of a bankruptcy filing in 2016 – were heavily reliant on very few suppliers to stock their shelves. 

Bed Bath already had a significant debt load prior to the new financing. The retailer has a total of nearly $1.2 billion in unsecured notes – with maturity dates spread across 2024, 2034 and 2044 – which are all trading below par, a sign of its financial distress. In recent quarters, the company said it burned through significant amounts of cash. Despite this, it pressed ahead with an aggressive stock buyback plan that added up to more than $1 billion in repurchases.

The funding announced in August is expected to provide Bed Bath some breathing room and buy it some grace from vendors. But even before the company needed a loan, it lost standing with some of its suppliers, according to the former executives. Bed Bath has tussled with big-name vendors over terms of payment, and executives grew frustrated with smaller shipments of popular products, while seeing other retailers with more of that merchandise – and sometimes exclusive versions.

During the 2020 holidays, air fryers ran low across Bed Bath’s stores. KitchenAid stand mixers, a top item on Christmas lists and wedding registries, were out of stock. The few vacuums and hair styling tools from Dyson that arrived at stores quickly got shipped to online shoppers, leaving store displays bare. Yet at Amazon, Target and Best Buy, those same products were available – and in some cases, even at buzzy promotional prices.

KitchenAid parent company Whirlpool and Dyson didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

Growing troubles

Customers carry bags from Bed Bath & Beyond store on April 10, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

Kevork Djansezian | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Vendors and licensees, likewise, grew concerned by the pace of Bed Bath’s changes – particularly as the retailer launched its own brands of bedding, kitchen utensils and more. As some brands and manufacturers saw Bed Bath pare down orders quarter after quarter, they looked to other stores and websites. 

The uneasy relationships exacerbated Bed Bath’s supply chain woes during the first two years of the pandemic, when all retailers coped with temporarily shuttered factories, congested ports and a shortage of truck drivers. The company lost $175 million in sales during the three months ended Feb. 26 as several items that were advertised in circulars were out of stock.

Vendors, which had limited supply, had to pick and choose where to send their hot products. As sales declined sharply at Bed Bath’s namesake stores, it had a harder time getting those items – such as Dyson’s hair styling tools or Keurig’s coffee makers– that were available at retail rivals, according to the former executives.

At company meetings, Bed Bath’s small shipments became a frequent theme – with merchandising leaders urging buyers to go to vendors and ask for more. There were also internal concerns that Bed Bath & Beyond was losing its clout and its relevance, the former executives said. 

Bed Bath’s troubles have grown in recent months. Its stock has fallen about 50% this year, its market cap now at about $565 million.

About 60% of total net sales come from Bed Bath’s stores, but its footprint is shrinking. Last week, the company announced the first wave of approximately 150 store closures of its namesake brand. Including Harmon and BuyBuy Baby stores, the company went from nearly 1,500 stores at the end of the first quarter in 2020 to fewer than 1,000 stores at the end of the same period this year. As of February, Bed Bath had roughly 32,000 associates, including approximately 26,000 store associates and about 3,500 supply chain associates. 

Meanwhile, the first wave of holiday merchandise has arrived at stores, including autumn wreaths, pumpkin-print kitchen towels and other fall-themed decor. Much of the merchandise at stores is from Bed Bath & Beyond’s private brands, such as budget-friendly home line Simply Essential.

During a CNBC visit in recent days, Bed Bath’s flagship store in New York City was full of clues that the retailer may not have enough of the hottest items. A Dyson display had six vacuum models – but only one type available for purchase. A display for French cookware company Le Creuset showed off Dutch ovens in many colors, but only had bright orange ones in stock. 

Only one stainless-steel, step-on SimpleHuman garbage can, which retails for $149.99, was boxed and ready to be carried away. However, there were small plastic garbage cans from Bed Bath’s owned brand, spread across multiple rows – selling for $3 each.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor.

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GM to close reservations for electric Hummer pickup, SUV after topping 90,000

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Production is now set to begin at the former Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant, less than two years after GM announced the massive $2.2 billion investment to fully renovate the facility to build a variety of all-electric trucks and SUVs.

Photo by Jeffrey Sauger for General Motors

DETROIT — General Motors will close reservations for its electric GMC Hummer pickup and the forthcoming GMC Hummer SUV after more than 90,000 of the vehicles were reserved, the company said Wednesday.

Closing the reservations is a way for the automaker to attempt to fulfill the current list of reserved vehicles, which extends out to at least 2024. The number of reservations is notable because of the starting prices of the vehicles, which range between roughly $85,000 and $111,000.

GM said it plans to close reservations for both vehicles starting Thursday. Anyone wanting to reserve one of the electric trucks must do so by the end of Wednesday.

GM has been slowly ramping up production of the Hummer EV pickup since earlier this year. As of the end of June, the company had sold less than 400 of the vehicles. The SUV version is expected to begin arriving to dealers and customers starting in early 2023.

The 2024 GMC Hummer EV SUV and 2022 GMC Hummer EV sport utility truck, or SUT.

GM

Duncan Aldred, global head of GMC, said production of the SUV should happen more quickly than the pickup, which was the first consumer vehicle to feature GM’s next-generation Ultium batteries and vehicle platform.

“We knew it would be a slow ramp. But next year, when you look at the calendar year, I think you’ll see a normalized year,” he told CNBC last week at the Detroit auto show. “When we produce SUV, that should get into stride right away … Next year is a big year for Hummer EV, both truck and SUV.”

GM’s decision follows Ford Motor shutting down reservations for its electric F-150 Lightning pickup after hitting roughly 200,000 units. It also had shut down reservations for the electric Mustang Mach-E crossover, but they have since reopened.

General Motors just unveiled its first all-electric Hummer—the GMC Hummer EV
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