AMC Entertainment Earnings Beat Forecasts Thanks to ‘Star Wars’

UPDATED: Revenues at AMC Entertainment hit record levels in the fourth quarter of 2015 on the strength of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the theater chain said Monday.

Total revenues grew approximately 10.1% to $783.9 million compared to $712.2 million in the prior-year period, setting a new high-water mark.  That still missed analysts’ projections. Wall Street had been looking for the theater chain to post $801.8 million in revenues.

The theater chain did beat on earnings, however, posting profits of $41.6 million, or 42 cents per share, compared with $29.8 million, or 30 cents in the prior-year period. Consensus estimates had the exhibition company hitting $39.6 million, or 41 cents per share, for the three-month period ending in December.

An earnings call with investors on Monday morning also served as an introduction to AMC’s new chief, Adam Aron. In December, the company tapped the former Starwood Hotels & Resorts CEO to take over from Gerry Lopez, the hard-charging executive who left AMC last summer to run hotel chain Extended Stay America.

Aron said he plans to grow the country’s second largest theater chain through a mixture of increased marketing and acquisitions.

“I think we can steal market share like crazy,” said Aron.

He also broke from most box office prognosticators in suggesting that this year will be a strong one for ticket sales, pointing to the success of “Deadpool” as evidence of a strong slate. Extending his gaze deeper into the future, Aron went on to say  that 2017 and 2018 looked “frothy and robust” for the exhibition space.

Thanks to the “Star Wars” sequel’s record-breaking run and other holiday season hits such as “Spectre” and “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2,” admissions revenues increased 8.4% to a record $498.7 million, as audiences jumped 5.8% to 51 million guests. Those gains trailed the industry average, which saw admissions growth on average of more than 10%. Ticket prices also climbed during the period, rising 2.4% to a new high of $9.77.

Like many exhibitors, AMC has invested heavily in expanding its menu options in recent years and now offers dinner service and alcoholic beverages in certain locations. To that end, food and beverage revenues grew approximately 12.5% to $242.3 million, while per patron revenues increased 6.5% to $4.75 — both were the highest in company history.

The company also completed its $173 million acquisition of Starplex Cinemas, a purchase that will add 33 theaters to AMC’s network, largely in smaller markets.

AMC’s earnings call came the morning after “Spotlight” scored an upset best picture win at Sunday’s Academy Awards. The drama about the Boston Globe’s investigation into the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal was distributed by Open Road, a movie studio that AMC owns with rival theater chain, Regal Entertainment Group. Aron predicted the awards attention would increase the value of the studio’s library and will allow the label to attract top-shelf talent.

“This is such a shot in the arm of prestige for Open Road,” said Aron, adding, “This success with ‘Spotlight’ gives us a pedigree.”

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