The impact of cord-cutting isn’t just limited to the small screen. In cineplexes across the nation, business operators have had to contend with declining interest. The market performance of two direct players in the industry, AMC (NYSE:AMC) and Cinemark (NYSE:CNK), hasn’t inspired much confidence for investors. That was a major concern for AMC stock as the underlying company was readying its second-quarter earnings report.
I’m one of the rare folks in the under-40 crowd that hasn’t been bitten by the Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) bug. As much as my friends and professional associates go to bat for content streaming, I just haven’t made the switch from traditional TV providers. But even someone like me who’s predisposed to watching films on the big screen must admit AMC’s malaise.
Last year, AMC stock lost an alarming 54% in the markets. This year, shares had gained 10% just prior to the Q2 disclosure. While respectable, a 10% profit doesn’t come close to making up for losing more than half your position’s initial value.
Obviously, a recent history of volatility doesn’t provide an ideal environment for investors sitting on the fence. But what really rattled (or intrigued, depending on your view) market participants was the options market for AMC stock. Implied volatility skyrocketed to nosebleed levels, indicating that traders expected a big move in the share price.
Complicating matters was that the day before Q2, AMC stock closed up 6.2% against the prior session. For context, shares closed down 1.5% just prior to the Q1 2018 earnings release. Post-earnings, AMC enjoyed a big move before succumbing to volatility several days later.
Will the opposite now happen, with shares building off some of the company’s positive developments? Or is AMC stock another case of a contrarian argument gone sour?
Shockingly Great Earnings Results for AMC stock
From what the company produced in Q2, it appears that the cineplex-operator is on a legitimate recovery path. Of course, this is just one earnings result, and it doesn’t overturn last year’s extraordinary ugliness. But if you’ve bought into the bullish argument for AMC stock, the underlying firm has provided further reason to believe.
The Street’s consensus for earnings-per-share was 8 cents, which came from wildly divergent individual estimates. These ranged from a loss of 17 cents up to a gain of 16 cents. Nevertheless, AMC obliterated consensus, bringing home diluted EPS of 17 cents.
In the prior-year Q2, AMC suffered an EPS loss of $1.38 that was nearly 11% below the consensus target.
The revenue picture also provided reasons to smile. Consensus estimate called for $1.43 billion, where individual forecasts ranged between $1.4 billion to $1.5 billion. AMC delivered actual sales of $1.44 billion. In Q2 2017, revenue hit $1.2 billion.
AMC President and CEO Adam Aron boasted that the company produced outstanding results in a strong quarter for the industry. The numbers back up his enthusiasm. Per-screen attendance at AMC jumped just over 21%. Its domestic box-office revenues enjoyed a nearly 23% increase. This compared favorably to a 21.4% lift in the U.S. market overall.
Furthermore, online ticket sales jumped a whopping 131% year-over-year. This offering is particularly convenient for moviegoers attending AMC locations that feature reserved seating.
And while consumers do complain bitterly about concession prices, they are unsurprisingly the movie industry’s biggest profit driver. But even in this unfavorable backdrop, AMC reported average food-and-beverage revenue per patron of $5.29. According to management, this is the largest such metric in the nation.
AMC Stock Has Opportunism and Demographics Working in Its Favor
Moving beyond the Q2 results, the longer-term picture for AMC stock, while still risky, must be given some credibility. I encourage would-be buyers to read InvestorPlace contributor Will Healy’s balanced analysis. Although Healy is ultimately cautious on AMC, he effectively points out the good and bad for the company.
The financial and industry risks for AMC stock has been well-documented, and I’m not here to argue against their pessimism. What I’d like to point out is that the cinema operator has two factors working in its favor longer-term: an opportunistic corporate spirit, and demographic trends.
As Healy notes, AMC has found success rolling out Stubs A-List, a subscription service for frequent moviegoers. A-List is a major improvement over the movie theater subscription model that Helios and Matheson (NASDAQ:HMNY) developed through MoviePass. Unlike HMNY, AMC owns its movie theaters, and pushed its own variant when MoviePass stumbled.
But in my opinion, the bigger factor is demographics. Last year, Latinos watched movies on the big screen at the highest rate per capita, followed very closely by Asians. Among the Asian audience, they were most enthusiastic about Spider-Man: Homecoming. A big draw was Filipino actor Jacob Batalon, who delivered a critically-acclaimed performance.
Wanda Group-owned AMC rolls out several Chinese-language films annually. And Hollywood is also taking note. More Asian actors are playing prominent, dignified roles as opposed to the racist buffoonery in decades past. That’s putting more dollars in AMC’s pocket, and this situation will only improve.
The dynamic will take significant time to fully pan out. But if you have a longer-term outlook, AMC stock is actually a surprisingly good contrarian bet.
As of this writing, Josh Enomoto held a position in AMC stock.