UPDATE with new share price: The odds weren’t ever in Lionsgate’s favor with this weekend’s lower-than-expected opening weekend for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2. Company shares opened down between 1% and 2% this morning, but later recovered to +1%, after ticketbuyers for the latest and last Hunger Games film spent an estimated $102.4 million domestically, and $146 million overseas.
At today’s trading range of $33.58 -$35.53 as of mid-day, the stock has fallen about 13% since November 12 roughly to its trading price in early June.
The earlier drop in Lionsgate’s stock price “probably reflects” investors’ expectation that Mockingjay 2 would disappoint, Piper Jaffray analyst James Marsh says. The film appears to be on pace to end its run generating anywhere from $75 million to $125 million less than analysts anticipated. “Potentially weak marketing and Midwest snow storms may have been the culprit this weekend,” the analyst says.
The immediate question for Wall Street is whether the results mean Lionsgate will fall short of the vow it made earlier this month to deliver adjusted cash flow of $1.1 billion to $1.2 billion for the three years ending in March 2017. Early this month the number was cut by about $100 million from Lionsgate’s previous guidance due to what CEO Jon Feltheimer called “softer-than-anticipated performance of some of our recent films” including The Last Witch Hunter and American Ultra.
Stifel Research’s Benjamin Mogil figures that Mockingjay 2‘s box office take “is likely below” the assumptions Lionsgate baked into its guidance. He now projects the studio will fall slightly short of its target with $1.07 billion — down from his earlier prediction of $1.14 billion. He gets there by reducing his forecast for Mockingjay 2‘s North American box office by 31.3% to $275 million, and reducing his home video sales prediction by 10%.
B. Riley & Co’s Eric Wold also warns that Mockingjay 2 set “a new low bar for the franchise” that will “put a downward bias” on Lionsgate’s cash flow projection and “raise questions about the ability of the studio to maintain/drive [cash flow] once the franchise ends.”
Still, analysts urge investors not to panic.
Wunderlich Securities’ Matthew Harrigan says that Mockingjay 2 “should still be enviably profitable” based on its estimated production cost of $160 million. “Commercially, it certainly made sense to break up the project into two parts — with total box office globally already above $1 billion including $755.3 million from Part 1 and $247 million from Part 2.”
Marsh says he expects Mockingjay 2 to “maintain relatively strong legs going forward with the Thanksgiving holiday weekend driven by strong reviews (‘A-‘ CinemaScore rating) and minimal competition.” Although the film may fall short of the $850 million global box office gross he anticipated, it’s “still a bit early to revise our forecasts.”
Besides, Lionsgate’s value might depend less on the performance of a single film — even a major tentpole — than on potentially sweeping changes in its strategy, especially if it continues to strengthen ties to Liberty Media’s John Malone and the empire he influences which includes Starz, Discovery, and Liberty Global.
Marsh says that investors should now turn their attention to “the next franchises, Lionsgate TV, and potential synergies with the Malone family.”
Wold goes farther: Mockingjay 2‘s disappointing weekend could lead to “a positive outcome” if it boosts “management’s motivation to seek out transformative acquisitions to further drive diversification and [cash flow] growth. With that in mind, we would use any post-weekend weakness to add to positions and are reiterating our Buy rating and price target of $50.00.”