Way back when I was a wee lad taking Russian classes in college, I bought myself a mail-order T-shirt imprinted with the following tongue-in-cheek declaration (I'm translating here from the Russian): "Siberia -- Land of Big Possibilities." That's never been truer than it is today.
Russia is fast becoming a repository of even faster-growing energy giants with the likes of Tatneft
Today, it's hosting that embodiment of the "next big thing" concept, mongo movie theater builder/operator IMAX
In its announcement, IMAX pointed out that it currently plans to set up three other theaters in Russia "in the coming year." The Ufa theater will be No. 4. By 2008, the additions of IMAX theaters in Kazan, Perm, and St. Petersburg will bring the company's Russian theater count to seven. Thus, even if you take next year's numbers as the base line, IMAX looks set to grow its theater count in Russia by 75% over the next two years, for a compound annual growth rate of 32%. Assuming revenues at least track store openings, that will have IMAX growing sales in Russia more than eight times as fast as its worldwide growth rate over the past three years.
It's an important point -- consider that in recommending the company's stock in August, Foolish Rule Breaker Rick Munarriz argued that the company is a "buy" even if it can grow its theater count in the future only at the rate it grew revenues last year (about 15%). The fact that IMAX has found itself a market niche in Russia, where much faster growth is achievable, reinforces his investment thesis.
The real question is whether IMAX can sustain its Russian growth at anything like the numbers described above. Having experienced both Russia's ritzy expat-and-New Russian-targeted theaters and its more downmarket Soviet-era offerings, I feel confident that IMAX can. Even Moscow, a capital city awash in oil money, has nothing to compare with the IMAX experience. And IMAX's decision to build in the long-ignored provincial markets smacks of the genius of Wal-Mart
You have to admire a company that doesn't just play by the rules on which we originally recommended it -- growing at a respectable rate in the first world. By choosing to ramp up its operations in a developing nation like Russia, and not just anywhere, but in some of the poorest, least-developed and least-competitive markets in Russia -- the provinces -- IMAX is proving itself two times the Rule Breaker we originally adjudged it to be.
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Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no shares in any company mentioned in this article.