IMAX Turns to China

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IMAX (NYS: IMAX) is beefing up its operations in China, bringing in Beijing-based former Sony (NYS: SNE) executive Jiande Chen to serve as CEO of its wholly owned IMAX China subsidiary.

It's easy to see why IMAX is fortifying its forces in the world's most populous country. China has grown to become IMAX's largest market outside of the United States.  Earlier this year there were 177 IMAX screens either open or on order backlog to be opened in China. 

The improving economy in China and the growing middle class clamoring for cinematic experiences make IMAX a more compelling growth story than it finds closer to home, where investors have been selling the stock like it's Ishtar 2.

Shares of IMAX have been cut in half since peaking three months ago.

Some of the markdown is warranted. After historically topping Wall Street's profit targets with ease during its multiplex makeover renaissance, IMAX has missed analyst guesstimates in the first two quarters of 2011.

The pros have been marking down IMAX's potential. Three months ago, analysts figured that IMAX would earn $1.02 a share this year and $1.51 a share come 2012. A brutal quarterly report later, those same analysts are targeting a profit of only $0.50 a share in 2011 and $1.14 a share for next year.

Investors are concerned that moviegoers are tiring of premium theatrical outings. 3-D outfitter RealD (NYS: RLD) is faring even worse than IMAX, trading for a little more than a third of its 52-week high.

It's definitely been a rough summer in terms of validation. Summer box office receipts were trailing badly until Time Warner's (NYS: TWX) final installment in the Harry Potter series evened the score. It also doesn't help that some of the summer's sleeper surprises -- The Help, Bridesmaids, and Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris -- aren't IMAX or 3-D fodder.

Things should get better from here. Contagion opens in 257 domestic IMAX screens tomorrow. There have been enough screen deals inked with overseas exhibitors in recent months that international growth will be more of a needle mover.

A sell-off after July's dismal quarterly report was warranted, but the stock has given up so much that it now trades at a forward multiple in the teens. If Contagion proves infectious, IMAX shares may be bottoming here.

If you want to see if premium cinema does bounce back, addRealDandIMAXto My Watchlist.

At the time this article was published Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of IMAX. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

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