Home is where the heart is for DreamWorks Animation investors this morning: The studio’s shares are up more than 7% in pre-market trading following the successful opening weekend for its only major 2015 release. Home‘s $54 million domestic box office gross trounced the Street’s expectations for about $30 million and broke a streak of disappointments that included write-downs for Penguins Of Madagascar, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Turbo, and Rise Of The Guardians. It was DWA’s third-strongest opening for a nonsequel after Kung Fu Panda ($60 million in June 2008) and Monsters Vs. Aliens ($59 million in March 2009).
Still, there’s no consensus over whether Home will improve investor perception of DWA or even if the film will end up in the black.
Janney Capital Markets’ Tony Wible is among the optimists, saying that the “surprisingly strong results eliminate risk of another impairment and should build confidence in DWA’s recovery.” Still, he’s sticking with his “sell” recommendation for the stock “until we get a better sense for how the post-release tail will develop.” He expects Home to generate about $187 million domestically and $280 million overseas — though, with its staggered release schedule, “it will take longer to see whether international will be as strong as the U.S. open suggests.”
B. Riley’s Eric Wold, who’s neutral on DWA’s stock, is more cautious. The weekend results “do not eliminate the risk of a write-down and only reduce the potential for a write-down from 95% to 75%” due to the additional costs and marketing over the five months since November 2014, when Home was originally supposed to be released. Even if it’s profitable, “the relative inconsistency of results for the studio’s film releases and lack of any new titles until Kung Fu Panda 3 in March 2016 could keep the shares relatively range bound.”
Stifel’s Benjamin Mogil, who has a “hold” recommendation for DWA shares, also isn’t changing his forecasts until he can see whether the film holds up. He expects Home to generate as much as $170 million in domestic ticket sales, which, “barring a very weak international title [would] make the film profitable or break even at worst.” He’s wary about sales in markets including Brazil, France, China, South Korea and Japan, where the film has not yet opened. Mogil expects total overseas sales of about $201 million, lower than the Street consensus of about $236 million.
Cowen and Co’s Doug Creutz, who rates DWA “underperform,” calls Home‘s opening weekend “a much needed win” for CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg with a sales number that “implies” it will be profitable. Still, he says that the outcome of the company’s investment story depends on results beginning next year, following its recent restructuring. And he remains a skeptic: “We continue to have a hard time assuming a sustained improvement in film performance as the market for big-budget tentpole films is set to become significantly more competitive in 2016-2017.”