Sluggish ‘Penguins’ Dampens DreamWorks Animation Prospects

DreamWorks Animation faced a chilly reception from investors this morning after its latest release, Penguins of Madagascar, generated $36 million at the domestic box office over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday – well below consensus estimates for $50+ million. Shares are down more than 5% in mid-day trading as analysts debate whether the studio will have to take another write down following recent ones for Rise of the Guardians, Turbo, and Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

More important, the disappointing results bolstered bears’ fears that DWA will continue to dive after a 12 month period in which it lost more than 31% of its market value. Next spring’s Home looks “uninspiring,” B. Riley Co’s Eric Wold said this morning. That, plus the likely move of B.O.O.: Bureau Of Otherworldly Operations from its planned summer release, paint a bleak picture “to investors or potential acquirers of the studio,” per Wold.

Stifel analyst Benjamin Mogil says he expects DWA to book a $14 million loss for Penguins in Q4. He cut his domestic box office and home-video sales estimates by more than 25% and notes that the film “has limited consumer products expectations.” Even if it ekes out a small profit from overseas sales, “we do not see that as sufficient from an expectations perspective.”

Sterne Agee stock picker Vasily Karasyov predicts that Penguins will generate $105 million at domestic box offices, far below the pre-release consensus of $175 million. That could result in a write down if the film can’t drive at least $350 million overseas. And he’s pessimistic that international sales will be 3.3 times domestic. “The highest ratio for a DreamWorks Animation title in the last five years was Kung Fu Panda 2 at 3.0; this ratio for Puss in Boots which is a good comparable title is 2.7,” he says.

Others are a little more optimistic about Penguins. Cowen and Co’s Doug Creutz expects it to be “comfortably profitable,” although he warns that he may have to take down his profit estimate for the company of 57 cents per share next year. “We remain concerned that DWA’s product is losing cachet among audiences due to heavy competition,” he says. The company’s efforts to diversify into TV and consumer products may not pay off “given the decreasing interest in their product and IP at the box office.”

Janney Capital Markets’ Tony Wible sees some glimmers of hope for Penguins, although it underperformed “even the most conservative tracking estimate” and likely will fall short of expectations. The film has “a favorable window with limited competition over the next month.” And audiences liked it judging by the A- rating at CinemaScore. International sales also “are disproportionately important for the Madagascar franchise” and Penguins faces a staggered release schedule through early January. “It will take longer to see if some markets can help compensate for the weaker U.S. open, but our $467 million total [international box office estimate] seems aggressive.”

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