Exhibition company stocks are off to a rocky start today. U.S. chains continue to swoon after two analysts lowered their outlooks for key players — mostly due to this quarter’s weaker than expected box office.
In addition to the U.S. drops Chinese trading in Wanda Film was halted after the share price fell 9.9%. Parent company Wanda Group said that that someone had “viciously speculated” on the internet that banks, including China Construction Bank, might dump Wanda’s bonds.
“After investigation, banks such as China Construction Bank have never issued such notices, and speculations online are just rumors,” the company said. “We hereby state that all operations are fine, and we sincerely hope that people will not trust or circulate rumors.”
U.S. analysts’ growing concerns about the market had more impact on domestic exhibition chains: In morning trading Cinemark is off 3.7% with AMC Entertainment -2.8% (it touched a 52-week low), Imax -2.2%, and Regal Entertainment -1.8%.
Credit Suisse’s Omar Sheikh delivered the hardest blow this morning, dropping price targets for all of the biggest publicly traded chains. In February he downgraded the sector, anticipating “slowing growth” in attendance per screen and concession sales per patron.
He still expects U.S. box office sales to be flat this year, below the industry consensus for growth of 2% to 4%.
Sheikh adds today that his forecast might be too optimistic. In Q3 sales will probably end up 15% lower than the period last year which benefited from Universal’s The Secret Life of Pets, he says.
That means Q4 box office will have to exceed last year by 15% to meet his expectations. “This looks possible (Star Wars, Justice League), but we see downside risks to our forecast,” he says.
In addition, he believes Hollywood studios “will push hard for premium VOD rentals to begin in 2017,” making new movies available to home viewers in the 90-day period then theaters traditionally have had them exclusively.
Movie houses could see attendance fall by 6%, he calculates, if premium VOD offerings begin a month after a new release hits theaters, and cost home viewers $50. He calls it a “struggle” to see how that “won’t reduce industry profitability.”
Exhibitors “have less leverage over studios than studios have over them, and that once an experiment begins, it will be hard to return to the status quo ante,” he adds.
The analyst shaved 23.1% off his stock forecast for AMC Entertainment, 21.2% from Imax, 10.5% from Regal Entertainment, and 10.5% from Cinemark.
That followed a report from RBC Capital Markets’ Leo Kulp who dropped his price target for Regal by 12%.
He says Q2 box office will probably end up down 3.5% vs the period last year, and he expected 5% growth.
Wall Street concerns about exhibition have intensified over the last three months. In that period Imax is down 28.1%, AMC is -24.9%, Cinemark is -10.8%, and Regal is -7.0%.