Lionsgate has reported higher earnings of $193 million, or 87 cents a share, for its third quarter ended Dec. 31, compared with a $30.6 million loss in the same quarter last year.
The studio cited strong performances from its motion picture segment and its Starz premium cable network along with a tax break. It easily beat analyst forecasts of Lionsgate earning 25 cents a share during the latest quarter.
Revenues gained 52% to $1.14 billion — again far above the Wall Street consensus of $1.08 billion. Net income included a one-time income tax benefit of $165 million reflecting the impact of the lower U.S. income tax rate under the new tax laws on net deferred tax liabilities.
“Our strong performance in the quarter, with robust contributions from our motion picture group and Starz, keeps us on track for our fiscal year expectations,” Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer said. “With this financial strength, we’re pleased to announce that our board has approved the resumption of our quarterly cash dividend, returning value to our shareholders as we continue to grow our company.
He continued, “Despite a disruptive operating environment, the quarter shows our success in creating premium content that cuts through the clutter of a crowded marketplace and our ability to supply it to a diverse array of media companies.”
The studio issued the report on Thursday after the stock market closed. Shares in Lionsgate fell 57 cents to $30 in after-hours trading following a massive sell-off that saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average slide 1,033 points amid fears of rising interest rates.
Lionsgate also declared Thursday a 9 cent a share quarterly dividend, payable May 1 to shareholders of record March 31.
The stock rose to above $35 a share between Jan. 19 and 26 following speculation that Lionsgate could be a takeover target for potential buyers including Amazon, Verizon, and a combined CBS-Viacom.
The media networks segment revenues increased 6% to $382.9 million, thanks to higher over-the-top revenue growth and revenues from worldwide digital media licensing arrangements, offset in part by cable subscriber losses. Segment profits increased 6% in the quarter to $128.3 million.
Motion picture segment revenues increased 14% to $539.1 million due to the strong domestic theatrical box office performance of “Wonder” — which grossed $278 million worldwide — and continued strong international performances of “La La Land” and “American Assassin.” Segment profits edged down to $54.3 million compared to $55.9 million in the prior year quarter.
Television production segment revenues edged down to $227.3 million compared to $231 million in the prior year quarter as increased revenues from deliveries of television series were partially offset by a decrease in syndicated licensing revenues. Segment profits declined to $22.7 million compared to $27.5 million in the prior year quarter.
During the conference call with analysts, Feltheimer and Chief Financial Officer James Barge said Lionsgate was on track to meet expectations for the current fiscal year, then match that performance during fiscal 2019, then return to growth in fiscal 2020. They indicated the lack of growth next year was due to increased investment in programming for Starz, which Lionsgate bought in late 2016 for $4.4 billion.
In answer to a question about the need to grow bigger, Feltheimer also expressed confidence during the call that Lionsgate will continue to able to exploit its ability to counter-program against the major studios in movies and act as a reliable supplier in television. He noted that he and Vice Chairman Michael have employed that strategy for nearly two decades.
“Our original formula keeps working,” Feltheimer said.