Does AMC's Viability Really Rise Under Debt Reduction?

Being in the on-site movie theater business is a crummy place to be during a pandemic. Now throw in a monster recession and something close to 20% unemployment. That is right where AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. (NYSE: AMC) happens to be, along with rival Cinemark Holdings Inc. (NYSE: CNK). This is a tale where one major live cinema destination is in a far worse place than the other despite both stocks being down by more than half from their highs.

AMC Entertainment may have tripled from its lows during the height of the panic selling, but the company disclosed in a filing with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission that the company has “substantial doubt” that it can remain open for business. The company is looking to trim its debt down, but the reality is that it’s at risk with no revenues and many fixed costs just to keep the leases and structures in good working order.

AMC is set to report earnings on Tuesday, June 9, after the market closes, and there are no hopes that there can be anything good in the first quarter. For guidance, how can they even get people into the movie theaters yet? Moviemakers also are delaying key movie releases because they have already sunk their costs and want to recoup those costs with live theater revenues. “Mulan” and the two or three decade late sequel to “Top Gun” are just some of the films that were delayed, and movie and filming production are still in most cases nonoperational.

AMD might lose as much as $2 billion on a net basis, but the company is planning to lower its outstanding debt by 20% via a debt exchange offer to certain bondholders to lower the principal due while bumping its interest rates on the notes. The notes at issue have a face value of about $2.3 billion with an average coupon of 6% or so. The proposed exchange would cut the principal due in half but would take the interest rates up closer to 12%.

Even with reducing the amount due ahead by half, and even keeping its interest payments flat due to the exchange, AMC’s future is in doubt. Its quarterly interest payments would be flat at $94 million, while its fixed expenses remain far about realistic new-normal operating expenses with employees, rents, improvements and so on.

Wedbush Securities believes that the current release slate of films appears to be overly optimistic. The firm’s Michael Pachter also noted that the probability of a reshuttering of theaters and additional delays to the movie release dates present real risks for AMC.

Wedbush sees a slow recovery throughout this theater chain’s global footprint. Europe is poised for an earlier opening, but a delay in release dates would keep consumers away from wanting to go see live movies for longer. Pachter noted that AMC’s solvency may remain an issue. The firm’s Neutral rating was maintained, and the former $3 price target was raised to $5. The company’s normalized valuations also assume “things return to normal by 2022.”

On May 25, MKM Partners raised AMC’s target to $5 from $1 and raised its former Sell rating to Neutral. MKM’s Eric Handler had downgraded AMC to Sell back on April 9, and his view at that time was that the bankruptcy risks were lower with a reopening in July to August. Handler’s report did voice concern over its net leverage and absolute level of debt, but that was also before AMC’s “substantial doubt” warning.

Short sellers remain rather active in the theater companies. Cinemark’s short interest of 12.65 million shares in the last report was about 12% of its entire float. AMC had a short interest of 22.64 million shares on last look, or about 44% of its float.

AMC’s shares were trading down 1.8% at $5.36 on Thursday, in a 52-week range of $1.95 to $12.49. Cinemark’s stock was up over 1% at $16.60, and its 52-week range was $5.71 to $41.60.