Why the Street Is Wrong on Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The film industry still looks to be in fairly good shape, although apparently not as good a shape as some analysts had hoped. Lions Gate Entertainment's (NYSE: LGF  ) sequel to "Hunger Games," "Catching Fire," cleaned up at the box office. However, opening weekend sales fell short of the Street's expectations, sending the stock down around 10%. Still, the initial figures from the movie look pretty solid. What's in store for the film studio as well as relevant peers, IMAX (NYSE: IMAX  ) and Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) ?

Opening weekend
"Catching Fire" brought in around $161 million for its first weekend in the US and Canada, which was slightly more than the $146.6 million the original raked in. However, the film's release did set the record for the most successful November premiere ever, which is definitely a bit of good news for the studio.

While sales were quite impressive, they fell shy of the company's own estimates, as well as those of many analysts. Some were putting projections for the US opening weekend at between $170 million and $180 million, which, to be fair, is a tough number to beat. In any case, Wall Street's reaction to the figures seems a little overdone.

IMAX's (NYSE: IMAX  ) stock did quite a bit better compared to the savage beating received by Lions Gate, rising slightly on the day of the report. IMAX theaters grossed $12.6 million with "Catching Fire" domestically, earning the company the record for highest three-day domestic premiere. Internationally, IMAX brought in around $18 million.

International sales key
According to many industry analysts, international grosses will prove crucial to the film's success. The company is hoping to break the $1 billion mark, a feat which only 17 movies have achieved so far. In any case, the initial worldwide numbers look very encouraging, with international sales of $146.6 million from 63 foreign markets; far higher than those of its predecessor.

With considerably less money to spend on international marketing than larger competitors such as Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) , the movie's international performance is quite impressive. Time Warner, for example, has an established set of distribution operations in most countries, but Lions Gate had to create its own network, coordinating operations across various geographic regions.

It's a funny sort of a market where a record-breaking opening weekend sends a stock tumbling 10%, but that seems to be the situation. According to some analysts, there is no particular reason for "Catching Fire" to have done substantially better in its opening weekend than the first part of the series. Additionally, the opening weekend sales were not too far short of Rentrak's $166 million projection, and initial numbers from Britain especially look encouraging.

As such, it may have been the Street's lofty expectations of the film, rather than its actual box-office performance, which sent the stock tumbling. Still, Lions Gate shareholders don't have too much to complain about. The stock is up more than 80% year-to-date, although it seems to be getting a bit pricey at around 20 times forward earnings. This is certainly higher than Time Warner's forward ratio of 15.6.

The bottom line
Wall Street's high expectations for the sequel to "Hunger Games" may have been what made the stock tank after the initial sales figures. Its opening-weekend performance was quite formidable, and the company is possibly looking forward to some fairly solid international sales. While the stock seems pricey at the moment, momentum from strong international grosses could cause some further upside for Lions Gate as well as IMAX. 

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