It's hard to imagine, but AMC Entertainment (AMC -3.28%) stock is actually up since the start of 2020, despite a pandemic that shut down theaters around the world and a clear shift in media toward streaming.
There are a number of reasons for the rise in shares, from optimism about a recovery to purely speculative trading, but the fundamentals are what long-term investors should worry about. And that's why this is a stock I would stay far away from.
The movies aren't what they once were
The last two decades have seen an overall decline in box office attendance that doesn't seem to be slowing. You can see below that tickets sold in the U.S. and Canada are down consistently since peaking in 2002. The loss in attendees has been offset by higher ticket prices, but there's a limit to how much theaters can raise prices.
|Year||Tickets Sold*||Average Ticket Price||Total U.S. Box Office|
|2002||1.58 billion||$5.81||$9.17 billion|
|2005||1.37 billion||$6.41||$8.84 billion|
|2010||1.33 billion||$7.89||$10.57 billion|
|2015||1.32 billion||$8.43||$11.38 billion|
|2019||1.24 billion||$9.16||$11.32 billion|
To make matters worse, home theaters have gotten better over the past decade as big-screen TV prices came down and studios built direct relationships with consumers through streaming services. The theater experience seems less necessary than ever before for both consumers and content creators, and that's terrible news for AMC.
AMC's balance sheet is a mess
Even if AMC recovers to pre-pandemic levels, the company isn't a great buy for investors. In 2019, the company reported a $149.1 million loss, and that was before we knew what COVID-19 was.
To make matters worse, the company has added over $1 billion in debt over the past year and now owes $5.7 billion.
So operations are getting worse long-term, and the balance sheet is more leveraged than it was a year ago. These aren't trends typical of a good long-term investment.
There is a place for the theater experience
As negative as I am about AMC's future, I do think there is a place for the theater experience. Movies are still a traditional "night out" experience, and there's nothing like seeing a blockbuster on the big screen. But with 1,004 theaters and 11,041 screens, AMC is a huge part of the saturation of the market.
Movies may become a premium experience that's rarer and a little less convenient than it has been in the past. Movies aren't dead, but we're already seeing the number of tickets sold falling, and that trend is likely to continue.
Stay away from AMC stock
Shares of AMC are hot as Reddit investors and traders have bid up shares. That may be momentum, or it may be a bet on an economic recovery. But even in a recovery, AMC isn't positioned to be a value stock for investors, and it certainly isn't a growth stock. And with wild swings in the share price driven by speculation and uncertainty, this is one entertainment stock to avoid right now.