Some of this year's hardest hit stocks came through with big gains last week. Shares of National CineMedia (NASDAQ:NCMI), AMC Entertainment (NYSE:AMC), and IMAX (NYSE:IMAX) soared 33%, 27%, and 16% respectively last week.
There were a couple of minor company-specific developments helping push the stocks higher, but the primary catalyst was the record-breaking opening week for Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) It. The silver screen adaptation of Stephen King's book and subsequent television miniseries shattered opening weekend records for any horror film as well as any movie debuting in September. The movie took in far more in its first week at the multiplex than all of the movies combined a week earlier.
Before Time Warner's It brought people back to the local multiplex the exhibitors were getting creamed. Year-over-year ticket sales had declined sharply for four straight months, and the industry suffered its worst weekend in more than 15 years late last month. It is saving the summer, and it's also providing a temporary fire under many of the stocks that live and die by movie theater audiences.
Fading to black
National CineMedia, AMC, and IMAX continue to be some of this year's biggest sinkers. National CineMedia, the leading in-theater advertising network, is still trading 53% lower year-to-date despite being one of last week's biggest market winners. Leading multiplex operator AMC Entertainment and experience enhancer IMAX are down 50% and 30%, respectively, in 2017.
National CineMedia is a speculative buy for income-chasing risk takers given its current yield of 12.8%, but the ability to keep those payouts coming relies on patrons to keep coming back to theaters to give the company the ability to deploy its inventory of video ads at attractive rates. AMC did announce that it was trimming its stake in National CineMedia this morning, but the stock sale could help bring a new partner into National CineMedia's fold.
IMAX needs people willing to pay up for premium screenings, and that was certainly the case with Time Warner's It. A healthy $7 million in domestic ticket sales and $17 million globally during the opening weekend alone came from IMAX theaters. IMAX also announced a two-theater deal with Malco, opening the door for the first commercial multiplex locations in Memphis, Tenn. and Fayetteville, Ark. last week.
AMC Entertainment was the beneficiary of a pair of upbeat analyst notes. Jason Bazinet at Citi kicked off the week by cutting his price target from $30 to $21, but with the stock beginning the week in the low teens it's actually a bullish update. Bazinet feels that the stock offers an attractive risk-reward ratio at this point. He feels that concerns about tightening release windows, leverage concerns, and uncertainties surrounding Wanda financing are overblown.
David Miller at Loop Capital closed out the week by sticking to what is now a very aggressive $33 price target on AMC Entertainment stock. He sees the chain having corrected the initial shortcomings at acquired theaters, and he's skeptical that premium video on demand -- a threat to multiplex owners as studios offer new releases directly to consumers at premium price points -- will ever launch effectively. He sees healthy year-over-year comps for the industry through at least the next five quarters.
None of the three companies are standing still, but with It bringing back movie theater audiences and Star Wars: The Last Jedi a lock to bring them back again just three months later it seems as if the cascading share prices this year overshot reality. The industry is struggling, but unlike many It Pennywise victims it's not dead just yet.
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