Mouse back in black

The Walt Disney Co., with the financial debacle of Euro Disney off its books for the time being, posted record first-quarter earnings Tuesday.

The continuing success of “Aladdin”– in the domestic homevideo and international theatrical markets this quarter — helped Disney erase a year-ago loss. That loss, though, came largely from accounting changes tied to post-retirement benefits and income taxes.

Without the one-time charge, Disney’s earnings were up 34%. Revenue climbed 14%.

In its fourth quarter ended Sept. 30, Disney took a $ 350 million reserve to clean up the Euro Disney mess. Half of the reserve covered royalties and fees Disney is scheduled to receive from theFrench park but most likely won’t. Disney owns 49% of the European Magic Kingdom.

The other half was set aside to help fund Euro Disney through March 31, the deadline Disney has set with Euro Disney bankers to restructure loans or face Disney severing its financial support. Disney spokesman Tom Deegan said those negotiations “are too sensitive for us to make any comment.”

Because of the fourth quarter write-off, the Mouse’s first-quarter results are free of the Euro Disney problems that have plagued its recent financial reports.

“We have written down our investment,” Deegan said. “It will have no effect on the balance sheet.”

The success of “Aladdin” and boffo results from the homevid bow of “The Jungle Book” led the filmed entertainment division to post operating income of $ 340.2 million, up from $ 235.4 million in the year-ago period. Revenue was $ 1.4 billion, up from $ 1.2 billion.

The theme park and resorts segment was basically flat for the quarter, as an increase in occupied room nights at Disney’s East Coast resorts was offset by sluggish international tourism.

The unit reported operating income of $ 138.1 million, up from $ 136.7 million in year-ago period, and revenue of $ 768.9 million, up from $ 745 million.

Disney’s consumer products unit posted big returns with strong same-store sales growth as customers ponied up at Disney stores for Mickey wear and the like.

Operating income at the unit climbed to $ 146.1 million from $ 124.6 million in the year-ago period, and revenue increased to $ 532 million from $ 437.1 million.

Overall, Disney earned $ 368.6 million (68 cents), compared with a loss of $ 96.4 million (18 cents) in the like period a year ago.

Without the accounting changes, the company would have earned $ 275.1 million (50 cents) in the previous first quarter.

Operating income climbed to $ 624.4 million from $ 496.6 million. Revenue was $ 2.7 billion, up from $ 2.4 billion.

In a press release, Michael D. Eisner, Disney chairman and CEO, and Frank G. Wells, prexy and chief operating officer, said, “The results for the quarter reflected strong growth driven by the continued success of Disney’s animated films and character merchandise.”

Disney’s stock closed Tuesday at $ 47, unchanged in New York Stock Exchange trading.

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