UPDATE, 6:30AM: Lionsgate shares are up around 3.8% in pre-market trading and are about +4.2% on the Paris stock exchange. For exhibition companies, Hunger Games’ $155M domestic opening buttresses the case that box office sales are back in 2012. Thus far, Q1 is +22% over the same period last year and, should end up this week at least +20%. B. Riley analyst Eric Wold notes that two weeks ago he raised his earnings estimates for Regal, Cinemark and Carmike assuming that overall box office sales for the quarter would be about +14%. “It now seems as though we were overly conservative,” he says. He estimates that Regal’s earnings per share in the quarter could hit 16 cents (vs. the consensus estimate of 8 cents), with Cinemark poised for 33 cents (vs. 26 cents forecasts), and Carmike at 28 cents (vs. 21 cents). The big question now is: How much will Hunger Games sales drop? Most films fall about 50% in their second weekend, but blockbusters are vulnerable to steeper declines. For example, Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 2 fell 72% and The Dark Knight was -53%. Hunger Games will lose about 270 domestic Imax screens as they switch on Friday to Warner Bros’ Wrath Of The Titans. These theaters accounted for about $10.6M in ticket sales, or 6.8% of Hunger Games’ domestic total. Still, Cowen and Co analyst Doug Creutz says that the film will power through and ultimately generate $350M at domestic offices — adding “this could well be conservative.” He notes that Hunger Games sales held up from Friday to Saturday, which is “a decent indicator of long-term legs.” Creutz raised his estimate of Lionsgate’s earnings per share for the fiscal year to 41 cents from 17 cents. Lazard Capital Markets’ Barton Crockett predicts $58.7M for Hunger Games’ second weekend, ahead of Titans which he says will come in at $52.1M.
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