There's more than one way out of an AMC theater. Image source: The Motley Fool.
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It might not just be the screen at your local multiplex fading to black. Credit Suisse analyst Omar Sheikh is downgrading a few leading exhibitors and companies that rely on multiplex operators to make a living. Movie theater giants AMC Entertainment (NYSE: AMC) and Regal Entertainment (NYSE: RGC) are being marked down, along with premium experience enabler IMAX (NYSE: IMAX) and pre-show advertising specialist National CineMedia (NASDAQ: NCMI).
Sheikh concedes that the slate of movies due out in 2017 and 2018 looks strong, but he feels that domestic box-office success has already been priced into the shares. He sees only limited upside from here, even with blockbusters boosting ticket sales.
Another risk here is that movie studios -- now in a position of negotiating strength given healthy market demand for their content -- may want to tweak the exclusive exhibition window. As streaming services and digital downloads grow in number, studios now have new revenue streams to paddle. If there is more money to be made by getting their films distributed digitally sooner than before, multiplex operators may suffer if folks decide they will wait weeks -- instead of months -- for a theatrical release to become available another way.
And now your featured downgrade presentations
Sheikh is lowering his rating on AMC Entertainment from outperform to neutral, but he's also raising his price target on the shares from $33 to $34. Don't take the increase as a sign of a mixed analyst report. The stock closed just $0.25 away from his new price goal yesterday, illustrating how high the stock has gotten since he originally pegged it with a bullish outperform rating. In short, he now sees the stock as fairly valued.
He has some company-specific concerns for Regal Entertainment and IMAX. In Regal's case, Sheikh points out that its largest shareholder has been a seller of the stock and may continue to sell. He's downgrading the stock from neutral to underperform, slashing his price target from $22 to $20.
Sheikh is changing his call on IMAX from outperform to neutral. Beyond the general multiplex concerns, where strong domestic box-office slates are widely anticipated, he sees IMAX's once torrid growth in China starting to slow. He also feels that some of IMAX's new initiatives may take another year or two before they start to pay off. His new price target for the stock is $34, down from $42 earlier.
Credit Suisse's analyst is saving his biggest move for National CineMedia, taking it down two notches from outperform to underperform. Sheikh is slashing his price target on the stock from $21 to $13. He sees this as a particularly challenging year for cinema advertising. Audiences will show up, but he feels that there isn't a lot of room for National CineMedia to grow its inventory utilization and rates.
One cautious analyst isn't the final verdict, of course. Moviegoers aren't flinching at multiplex operators boosting their ticket prices, particularly for IMAX and other premium screenings. Some of the stocks may be ripe for a breather after their recent gains, but the industry continues to thrive in an otherwise challenging climate. Investors of the publicly traded players may still get the Hollywood ending they crave.
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