* Box office weak in quarter but theater signings grow
* Shares tumble 15 percent on NYSE, TSX
* “Transformers”, “Harry Potter” boost Q3 box office (Adds analyst comment, details; in U.S. dollars unless noted)
TORONTO, July 28 (Reuters) - Imax Corp IMX.TO(IMAX.N) reported a big drop in second-quarter profit on Tuesday as a dearth of blockbuster movies crimped box office revenues at its at its big-screen theaters, knocking its shares sharply lower.
The company picked some “horrible, horrible movies” that failed to lure audiences and it was too quick to stop screening others that performed well, such as car-racing action thriller “Fast Five”, said Marla Backer from Hudson Square Research.
Imax’s net income fell 87 percent from a year ago, pushing its shares down 15 percent by late afternoon on Thursday. If the historically volatile stock closes at that level it will be the sharpest one-day drop since late 2008.
“The stock is far more volatile than it needs to be because the management talks too many thing that don’t matter,” said Michael Pachter from Wedbush Securities. “What is more important is to get more screens installed and they seem quite cavalier about their pace of installation.”
Imax, which expects to build up its theater network by 30 percent annually and has targeted China, said its global expansion continued apace with strong theater installations.
It said third-quarter box office was off to a strong start, generating $88 million in ticket sales for films such as the new “Transformers” and the final installment in the “Harry Potter” series in less than a month. It made $98 million at the box office in all of the third quarter last year.
Imax installed 41 theater systems in the quarter, compared with 21 a year ago, and upped its full-year forecast slightly to between 120 and 130 theaters.
The Toronto-based company reported net income of $1.8 million, or 3 cents a share, compared with $13.3 million, or 20 cents a share, a year ago.
Adjusted to exclude deferred tax provisions and charges tied to changing values of its stock compensation plan, it earned 7 cents a share. Analysts had expected adjusted earnings of 20 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Overall revenue rose 3 percent to $57.2 million, in line with average estimates. Second-quarter film revenue was $18.7 million, down from $20.7 million. Gross box office from DMR (digital media remastering) titles was $107.7 million, Imax said, compared to $113.9 million in the second quarter of 2010, which included an $8.0 million boost from “Avatar”.
“While the quarter did not live up to our financial expectations, more fundamental to the long-term value of our business is the fact that we have signed 153 theater deals year-to-date, are installing theaters at a rapid rate and are sitting on a record backlog of close to 300 Imax theater systems,” said Imax Chief Executive Richard Gelfond.
Despite the miss on earnings, analysts suggest Imax remains a strong long-term investment.
“There is no justification for this kind of decline,” said Aravinda Galappatthige from Canaccord Genuity. “The value of the company is driven by future growth and the fact that this was going to be bad quarter was known,” he said.
“These guys are executing incredibly well on growing the footprint, and when we get a good box office ... you can see how that network can deliver strong results,” said Hudson Square’s Backer, who has a “buy” recommendation on the stock and a price target of $40.
Imax shares were down 15 percent at $20.65 in New York by late afternoon and at C$19.631 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
The stock had slipped about 14 percent this year prior to the results.
$1=$0.95 Canadian Reporting by Alastair Sharp in Toronto and Bhaswati Mukhopadhyay in Bangalore