* Lack of “Avatar”-like blockbuster hurts
* Ups forecast for 2011, to install 115-125 theaters
* Shares jump 5 percent (Adds comments from executive and analysts, details, share price. In U.S. dollars unless noted)
By Alastair Sharp
TORONTO, April 28 (Reuters) - A lack of blockbuster films hit Imax Corp’s IMX.TOIMAX.N box office in the first quarter, and it posted a loss on Thursday, but it said it was encouraged by solid demand for its big-screen movie theaters.
The Toronto-based company said that during the first quarter it installed 43 of its oversized-screen theaters. It also signed new deals for 101 theaters, and raised its forecast for installations for the full year.
“It was a tale of two quarters,” Imax CEO Richard Gelfond said. “The basics of Imax for a long-term shareholder have dramatically improved. If you’re looking at the short run, the quarter was a disappointing box office quarter,” he said.
The stock hit its highest price in more than a decade on Thursday morning, up more than 5 percent.
“It’s a great company with a remarkable story but today’s share price baffles me a little bit,” said Canaccord Genuity analyst Aravinda Galappatthige, noting both the lackluster box office and installation outlook were known ahead of the results.
The company reported a first-quarter loss of $1 million, or 2 cents a share, its first loss after seven quarters of gains. It had a profit of $26.5 million, or 42 cents a share, a year earlier on the back of the release of “Avatar” on its screens.
Revenue fell to $45.2 million from $72.8 million in the year-before quarter.
Excluding one-time items and stock-based compensation, earnings fell to $2.5 million, or 4 cents a share, from $35.3 million, or 53 cents a share, a year earlier.
That compared to an average expectation among 16 analysts polled by Reuters for earnings of 11 cents a share on revenue of $50.5 million.
Analysts seemed unfazed by the quarterly results as Imax prepares for the peak summer blockbuster season, starting on Friday with street car-racing film “Fast Five” opening in North America and fantasy epic “Thor” opening internationally.
Imax takes an oversized portion of ticket sales for blockbuster films such as “Avatar”. Its screenings of Disney’s “Tron: Legacy” generated almost a quarter of the science-fiction film’s U.S. box office receipts with only 2 percent of its screenings, Imax said last quarter.
“With difficult comps in the rearview mirror, we look forward to a monster summer slate, which kicks off this weekend with ‘Fast Five’,” Piper Jaffray analyst James Marsh wrote in a note to clients.
Imax’s Glefond said he expects years of growth in emerging markets such as China, where Imax balances Hollywood and local content, and Russia, where 3D is particularly popular.
“There’s a lot of runway for us to grow,” he said. In North America the company is moving into smaller cities, he added.
Imax signed a 75-theater revenue sharing deal with Wanda Cinema Line, China’s largest cinema operator, in late March. [ID:nL3E7EO0CR]
Imax said it now intends to install between 115 and 125 theaters in 2011, up from earlier plans for more than 100 new theaters.
The company also said it would expand its senior secured credit facility to up to $110 million, replacing its previous $75 million facility on improved terms.
Shares of the company were trading $1.79 cents, or 5.5 percent, higher at $34.04 on the New York Stock Exchange, and up 5.3 percent at C$32.30 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Thursday morning.
$1=$0.95 Canadian Reporting by Alastair Sharp, additional reporting by Maneesha Tiwari in Bangalore; editing by Peter Galloway