It's been a cruel summer for AMC Entertainment Holdings (AMC -1.70%) investors. The country's leading multiplex operator remains one of this year's top performers, but the past few weeks have been rough. The stock has shed more than half of its value since peaking two months ago.
Where do we go from here? Let's go over some of the things that could get AMC stock moving in the right direction again.
1. Investors can go from stock pumping to movie pumping
One thing keeping AMC down is that summer box office receipts in the U.S. have been disappointing. We're finally getting big movies playing on the silver screen, and attendance levels are still less than half of what they were two years ago. The surge in COVID-19 cases across the country is only going to make things worse as the peak summer season fades out of focus.
AMC CEO Adam Aron made a brilliant move by appealing directly to its base retail investors. With more than 4 million individual investors it launched Investor Connect, incentivizing shareholders with a free bucket of popcorn if they sign up for a mailing list of marketing missives and financial updates.
Retail investors have galvanized online, enlisting in the "AMC Army" and calling themselves "apes" as a badge of honor. The problem is that they've taken to online message boards, YouTube, and TikTok with videos pumping up stock ownership instead of the moviegoing experience.
Just 2% of the country saw a movie at the theaters this past weekend, and of course less than that saw a theatrical release at an AMC. You would think that influencers would be trying to make their own luck by promoting going to the local AMC multiplex instead of making posts and videos spouting conspiracy theories. Where are the gushing reviews of the rare films available exclusively in theaters? Why aren't more retail shareholders pumping the high-margin concessions and big-ticket experience of private screen rentals? Trying to lift the perceived value of the business instead of touting the business itself is a missed opportunity.
2. AMC can go shopping
AMC has taken advantage of its buoyant meme stock status to crank out new shares at higher prices. The exhibitor's stock count has more than quadrupled over the past year. But that's not the only lever available to a company with an inflated share price.
Smaller publicly traded rivals have fared poorly relative to AMC. They are all trading at much lower valuation multiples. Why isn't AMC going shopping? If its share count is going to be a blank check and it's toiling away in a distressed niche, why isn't it buying up its teetering peers for pennies on the AMC dollar? Why isn't it buying international players that are faring better in a recovery? Why isn't it using its premium-priced stock to snap up non-multiplex operators that have more resilient business models partly related to the movie theater industry?
As bad as things have been for AMC stakeholders with the stock cut in half over the past nine weeks, things could be worse. The stock would have to drop another 94% to get back to where it was at the start of 2021, and based on market cap, the hit would be even worse. You have to make hay when the sun shines, and now is the time to buy businesses that will thrive in the next new normal for the industry. The once-hot media stock needs to move before it cools off completely.
3. Make AMC on Demand a leader
AMC is well aware that it's too easy to stream first-run and iconic movies from home. It has its own fledgling entry -- AMC on Demand -- to monetize the homebodies who find themselves watching more films at home. A subtle but savvy move last month was to reach out to its AMC Stubs loyalty members, offering them a free in-theater beverage if they rent an AMC on Demand stream. It may seem nuts to offer a large fountain drink that it sells for at least $6 in exchange for a digital purchase that could cost as little as $0.99, but it was all about getting folks comfortable with its premium-streaming platform.
It's clear that the market is more excited about digital delivery than running projectors in big-box cinemas. We've seen media and tech companies take off on the strength of their streaming platforms. AMC's valuation multiples will expand if AMC on Demand proves to be a needle-moving industry leader. Getting people to kick the tires is a great start, but now it needs to raise the stakes. It needs to use whatever clout it has with studios to offer content exclusive to AMC on Demand. It needs to license streaming content that you can't find anywhere else, and if that's not feasible, then it needs to create its own content. As forward-thinking as CEO Aron has been this year, why isn't Investor Connect available as a stream that can be seen only on AMC on Demand? Make a documentary on the AMC Army. Heck, just sell apes merch at the theaters while you're at it. The lower the stock drops, the less enthusiastic that fan base will become.
AMC has an opportunity here that it can't squander. If AMC can't get retail investors to show up to the movies, it should at least get them on its home-facing platform. Make them product ambassadors. Don't save stuff for a sequel that may never happen.