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Is Now the Time to Sell AMC Entertainment Stock?

By Zhiyuan Sun - Jun 6, 2021 at 6:38AM

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The movie theater operator has the potential to make an impressive comeback -- but not for the reason you might think.

Over the past year, the iconic theater chain AMC Entertainment Holdings (AMC -6.58%) has won over the hearts and souls of WallStreetBets traders. On Wednesday, its shares skyrocketed another 95.6% after the company announced it would launch an exclusive web platform for retail investors. Shareholders would receive many perks, including free popcorn, exclusive new screenings, and the chance to speak with CEO Adam Aron.

Enthusiasm about AMC's turnaround prospects have sent its shares soaring more than 400% in the past month and 2,100% year to date. Is the stock a safe investment right now?

People enjoying a movie at the theater.

Image source: Getty Images.

What's behind the hype?

During the first quarter of 2021, AMC operated 585 of its domestic theaters at just 15% to 60% capacity, while only 27% of its 133 international ones stayed partly open. People steered clear of packed indoor movie screenings with the coronavirus pandemic still going strong, but that's less of a risk as more of the U.S. population has been vaccinated.

Hence, investors are betting that AMC's revenue and earnings will experience a massive rebound starting in the second quarter. In 2019, the company generated $5.42 billion from ticket, concessions (food and beverage), and entertainment sales and posted a free cash flow of $84 million.

But there's more. The pandemic also led to extended production delays, as social distancing can be difficult on a movie set. Many producers also did not want to release completed films in a purely digital format and miss out on lucrative box office revenue. 

There is now a massive backlog of new films from blockbuster franchise properties such as AvatarDungeons & Dragons, Ghostbusters, Halloween, Kingsman, The Matrix, Minecraft, Mission: Impossible, and Tomb Raider, as well as several new offerings from the comic book universes of DC and Marvel. They are all scheduled to be released by the end of 2022.

The schedule is so packed that prominent films like Black Widow and Cinderella are set to hit theaters within two weeks of one another in July. Given its sheer size, AMC might even see its box office revenue hit record highs in 2022.

Can you count on AMC?

Generally speaking, most investors tend to buy on emotion and justify with reason. Now is probably time to look at the latter. When the stock was trading for just $12 last month, it looked pretty undervalued.

However, things have changed as AMC's market cap has surged to nearly $25 billion. To put things into perspective, the company's market cap was less than one-fifth of that amount in 2016, before streaming services like Netflix gained momentum and took away some of its market share. 

What's more, AMC has $5.4 billion in long-term debt and owes $4.9 billion per year in theater rent. Even in its heyday, the company operated at razor-thin margins. Now its balance sheet looks even worse as liabilities outpace its assets by over $2 billion. For these reasons, it's probably a good time to take profits on the stock and consolidate gains.

But watch for its next move

Based on the poor fundamentals (and experience with market bubbles), it can be very tempting to see the recent rally as nothing more than a pump-and-dump scheme or a total scam. But there is something that even prudent investors are missing. 

With a $25 billion market cap, AMC only has to issue 22% more shares to raise cash to pay off its entire debt balance. That's right: The company has the potential to do a "soft reset" and start afresh. The returns would be immediate, as after closing, it would no longer have to pay $151.5 million per quarter in interest. In the first quarter of 2021, the company's interest expense outweighed its total revenue.

Not only would its profit margins increase, but it could also use new cash to increase its theater count, upgrade its recliner seats and big screens, introduce dine-in restaurants at its locations, and more. Since there is still a lot of demand from retail investors at these levels, I don't think it would have trouble finding buyers for the offering, either.

In fact, the company did just that on June 3. AMC sold 11.5 million shares of stock hours after announcing the offering, raising $587.4 million in much-needed cash. The stock fell by more than 30% from the previous day's close before recovering. Investors should continue to expect further dilutions ahead, as the new capital is still not enough for a soft reset of its liabilities.

Overall, AMC stock is very overvalued at these levels. But thanks to the help of 10.3 million traders/followers/influencers of WallStreetBets, the company now has the option to refinance or eliminate its crippling liabilities. If the share price comes down to something more reasonable (say, $20), I'd definitely give the new AMC a chance. For now, check out these alternatives instead.

Zhiyuan Sun has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc. Stock Quote
AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc.
AMC
$18.02 (-6.58%) $-1.27
Netflix, Inc. Stock Quote
Netflix, Inc.
NFLX
$241.16 (-1.64%) $-4.01

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