Is it time to let exhibition company stocks out of the penalty box? Apparently not based on Wall Street’s sour reaction to three major analyst reports out today — including two that encouraged investors to buy.
Theaters are among the few media sectors losing ground today, even though the overall market is up about 1.7% in afternoon trading. AMC Entertainment is down 1.5% and touched a 52-week low, while Cinemark is -1.2%, and Regal is -1.0%. Carmike bucked the trend, with shares up 2.4% and Imax is up 0.8%.
The continued pessimism is striking after the major exhibition companies’ shares declined by double digit amounts in the second half of 2015.
Morgan Stanley’s Ryan Fiftal seems to have struck a chord with his new report lowering price targets slightly for Regal and Cinemark.
The stocks’ current trading prices suggest that investors expect low single-digit growth in ticket sales. But a “common-sense base case forecast” for this year should assume “a flat to modestly down domestic box office,” he says.
Last year’s strong sales were “driven more heavily by pricing than we expected.” That’s bad news because “lighter attendance leads to less high-margin concessions revenue.”
That contrasts with analyst Tony Wible’s bullish view of exhibition in his initiation reports at his new home, Drexel Hamilton.
He says that theaters have “battle-tested models with relatively high dividend yields [and] are entering a new phase of growth with innovation and a strong film slate.”
Wible’s enthusiastic about theaters’ increasing use of plush, recliner seats — even if it means reducing the number of seats in a venue. In addition to improving occupancy rates, the change “indirectly helps introduce reserved seating, which in turn helps boots concession sales, increases mobile app adoption, and provides pricing optimization opportunities.”
The analyst also likes the new “long term visibility” into Hollywood’s plans: Each year through the end of this decade theaters can anticipate seeing “two Marvel films, one or two Marvel licensed films, two DC films, one Star Wars film, one or two Pixar films, and at least one DreamWorks Animation film” as well as “the return of the Harry Potter, LEGO, and Avatar franchises.”
MKM Partners’ Eric Handler also expects to see exhibition shares recover in 2016.
“While the year is unlikely to find films that have the potential to surpass $600 million (as was the case in 2015 with Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World), we like the depth of product, especially within the superhero and animated film genres,” he says.