Wall Street is roaring back at Lionsgate this morning for the disappointing box office performance this weekend of The Divergent Series: Allegiant. Shares are down about 3% in early trading today — bringing the six-month drop to more than 45% — after the film generated $29 million domestically.
Analysts expected better. On Friday, Wells Fargo Securities’ Marci Ryvicker forecast a $35 million weekend while MKM Partners’ Eric Handler looked for $34 million.
They don’t believe the film will have a chance to catch up. Next week it will compete with Batman Vs. Superman, which will take over Imax screens.
Allegiant also stung because Lionsgate has one more film in the Divergent series coming next year. And it follows a string of letdowns including Gods of Egypt, Norm of the North, The Choice, and The Perfect Match.
Stifel Research’s Benjamin Mogil lowered his recommendation on Lionsgate shares to “hold,” and dropped his earnings forecasts. He cut his 2016 number by 7.7% to 48 cents a share, and next year’s by 23.6% to $1.26.
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“While we are generally reticent to change ratings around a single movie’s performance, the bull case on this name has been that there would be no earnings cliff post Hunger Games,” Mogil says. “Allegiant was expected to be the underpinning” for earnings expectations. “With Allegiant now faltering, the impact going forward is material and more importantly brings into question how deep the Young Adult market is, a market which has brought in numerous entrants amid a movie going environment which is increasingly very concentrated among fewer films.”
Cowen & Co’s Doug Creutz also sees Allegiant’s anemic performance as a data point that supports his view that studios will see a lot of red ink in a winner-take-all movie market.
One problem for Lionsgate is that “five of the company’s six major film releases this quarter failed to reach even 15% positive on the Rotten Tomatoes rating site – a remarkably poor run of film releases,” he says.
But he adds that “Disney has called out a $75 million writedown coming for The Finest Hours, while Viacom will be taking a combined $100 million hit on Zoolander 2 and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” — while Deadpool and Zootopia account for 23% of box office sales so far this year.
Wunderlich Securities’ Matthew Harrigan is a little less glum about Allegiant.
“Given poor reviews and very unpredictable box office for [young adult] films, we admit to actually being slightly relieved, with the film likely to achieve cumulative U.S. box office approaching $70 million,” he says. “Break-even for the project within [Lionsgate’s] conservative risk envelope is likely somewhere above $60 million domestic box office.”
What’s more, he still has “high confidence in Lionsgate’s TV growth profile.”
What about all the Wall Street chatter that Lionsgate’s prospects depend more on dealmaking — including its talks about possibly acquiring Starz — than on specific movies?
Mogil, for one, is unenthusiastic about the idea. Starz has “material challenges,” he says as it faces a potential price cut when it renews its carriage deal with AT&T’s DirecTV.
A deal with Starz would be “challenging…given the need to continue to re-boot and re-invent that channel at the same time as [Lionsgate’s] core Motion Picture business has decreased visibility.”
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