Why You Should Buy IMAX Instead of AMC

AMC Entertainment's (NYSE: AMC  ) IPO this morning is going to be drawing plenty of attention, and it's easy to see why. The leading exhibitor has a wide empire of 4,950 screens across 343 movie theaters. It entertains 200 million guests a year. 

However, investors jumping into their seats for AMC's latest stint as a public company may want to consider buying into the faster-growing potential of IMAX (NYSE: IMAX  ) instead. There's nothing inherently wrong with AMC. It's been profitable since posting a loss in fiscal 2011. Its network of screens isn't growing very quickly, but the company has been rolling out Coke freestyle machines to give consumers more beverage choices, adding RealD (NYSE: RLD  ) 3-D to nearly half of its screens to drum up more revenue per patron, and gradually installing motorized recliners to make a night at the movies as cozy as being at home. 

However, AMC's growth hasn't been all that impressive. It rang up $2.4 billion in fiscal 2011, and $2.5 billion in fiscal 2012. During the past 12 months, revenue has clocked in at $2.7 billion. Slow-and-steady growth is impressive, but IMAX offers heartier potential. Yes, revenue fell 5% in 2011, but IMAX bounced back, with revenue climbing 20% last year. Analysts see revenue sliding 2% this year, only to bounce back with a 14% pop next year. It's lumpy, but over time, it translates into healthier growth.

Even AMC's own future seems to indicate healthier growth for IMAX than AMC itself. It expects to add 157 new screens to its empire during the next five years, a 3% increase. Meanwhile, that same five-year deployment plan sees its IMAX screens increasing 10%, to 150 supersized screens. Additional RealD screens, by the way, are only expected to increase by 4% at AMC in that time.

IMAX bears will argue that AMC, and other multiplex operators, are rolling out proprietary big-screen formats, and AMC's prospectus points out that the chain will more than double its fleet to 34 ETX screens by 2018. However, AMC is generating $0.58 more per guest for IMAX relative to ETX. Moviegoers also know that there's a big difference between a movie that's been remastered for IMAX's projection system, sometimes with additional footage shot with IMAX cameras, and one that's simply being blown up for ETX. 

IMAX also offers broader global appeal. Orders for IMAX screens outside of North America continue to grow and, just this morning, Asia's largest exhibitor confirmed that it will be installing an additional 80 IMAX screens across China. 

The market ate up AMC's IPO today. The deal was priced at $18 last night, opening 7% higher in this morning's debut. However, the real feature presentation is IMAX as a global play on worldwide audiences clamoring for premium viewing experiences.

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