When it comes to this summer’s top grossing blockbuster, you can forget about Madagascar 3 and Prometheus. Likewise for big-budget hits like The Avengers and Men in Black 3. This summer’s boffo box office winner is — the box office.
Movie theater chains are poised to become the comeback kids of the entertainment industry, with ticket sales destined to grow by 20% over the next five years, according to the new filmed entertainment outlook released by PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Already this year, movie ticket sales are up a whopping 10% over 2011.
Just last year, cinema scribes were singing dirges for the movie theater business model, pointing out that final box-office sales — compared to new movies’ opening weekend take — have sunk 25% since 2002. Blame technology: DVD and Blu-ray disc sales were the early villains in the theater chains’ sales declines, as was their own aggressive pricing of 3D screenings.
But a turnaround is in the works: Combined DVD and Blu-ray sales will experience a steady decline between now and 2016, according to the study, as consumers increasingly prefer to rent, not buy. And theater chains are becoming less aggressive in raising prices.
Cheap rentals from Coinstar’s (NASDAQ:CSTR) Redbox subsidiary will still grow. Streaming video on demand from Verizon’s (NYSE:VZ) FIOS, Comcast’s (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Xfinity and others — as well as subscription services like Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) — will rise too. But that growth is not expected to come at the box office’s expense.
Here are three movie theater stocks that are worth waiting in line for this summer. Each one has its own edge, so pick the “genre” that best suits your investment objectives:
Thriller: Regal Entertainment Group
Regal Entertainment Group (NYSE:RGC) is the nation’s largest movie theater chain with more than 6,500 screens in 37 states and the District of Columbia. Its strength is in investment in premium 3D and IMAX screens.
On May 1, RGC blew away Wall Street’s top- and bottom-line first-quarter earnings estimates, reporting EPS of 30 cents on revenue of nearly $685 million. Analysts had expected an EPS of 14 cents on $661 million in revenue.
While the stock has gained almost 20% in the past year, Regal really is a “thriller” because of its 6.2% dividend yield. Since the second-largest chain, AMC, delayed its IPO for the second time in April, RGC is your choice if you equate number of screens with higher earnings potential.
Cinemark (NYSE:CNK) is the third-largest movie theater chain with nearly 3,900 screens in 39 states and nearly 1,300 in 13 countries. This strong international presence, particularly in Latin America, sets it apart.
A strong American box office drove CNK’s first-quarter earnings growth. On May 7, the company reported a 68% rise in the EPS to 37 cents — walloping analysts’ estimates of 3 cents. Its 20% revenue growth to nearly $579 million also beat the Street’s estimates of $569 million.
Cinemark is the sector’s largest company by market cap, at $2.5 billion; it also has the broadest geographic reach, if you factor in the international theaters. CNK looks a little undervalued at a price/earnings-to-growth ratio of 0.8. CNK is “epic” because of all three of these factors — and its nearly 4% dividend yield looks pretty good, too.
Action: Carmike Cinemas
As the nation’s fourth-largest movie theater chain, Carmike Cinemas (NASDAQ:CKEC) boasts 2,150 digital screens and some 750 with 3D capability. CKEC’s edge is in its focus on theaters in local communities with populations under 100,000.
CKEC latest earnings, reported May 7, also beat estimates on the top and bottom lines. Quarterly revenue of nearly $131 million was 36% higher than the same quarter last year. On the earnings front, Carmike’s EPS came in at 36 cents a share, compared to the consensus estimate of 11 cents — and a $1.44 loss for the same quarter last year.
Carmike has the smallest market cap among its peers: only $246 million. But big things come in small packages. CKEC is an “action” stock because of its one-year performance of nearly 110%. But the run might not be over — its small-town niche and digital upgrades give this stock additional upside.
As of this writing, Susan J. Aluise did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.