IMAX Is Bigger Than Hollywood

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A double feature of encouraging news is pushing shares of IMAX (NYS: IMAX) higher today, even though domestic exhibitors are coming off a 16-year low in multiplex attendance.

An upbeat story in Wall Street Journal's Heard on the Street column this morning proposes that the provider of supersized theatrical experiences is positioned to grow nicely even if ticket sales continue to run sluggish at the local movie theater venue.

The key to IMAX's bullish thesis is that desperate exhibitors continue to embrace the proprietary enhanced format as a way to deliver a premium-priced cinematic outing that can't be duplicated in a home theater. There were 373 IMAX screens installed by the end of 2010, but the company's order backlog should translate into 580 to 600 screens by the end of this year.

Since IMAX receives a percentage of box-office receipts, more screens will naturally translate into greater revenue -- and even greater profitability given the scalable nature of the model -- as its presence grows.

There is also the booming international market. The column points out how ticket sales in North America have inched just 15% higher from 2006 to 2010, half as fast as the rest of the world. The potential is even greater for emerging economies, and it should come as no surprise that IMAX's biggest market outside of the United States is now China.

The column closes out by pointing to the compelling valuation. IMAX is fetching just 18 times this year's projected profitability of $1.05 a share. Slower growing exhibitor Regal (NYS: RGC) is trading at 20 times this year's estimated earnings, and the operator's growth obviously doesn't have the same kind of upside as IMAX.

The column doesn't point out -- but I will -- that IMAX is also trading at a cheaper forward earnings multiple than 3-D outfitter RealD (NYS: RLD) . However, multiplex operator Cinemark Holdings (NYS: CNK) is now trading for less than 12 times this new year's bottom-line target. Then again, we need to revisit the global upside and widening margins that are possible with IMAX over a stateside theater operator.

The second piece of bull-affirming news today is a joint revenue sharing deal with a Canadian exhibitor to install four digital IMAX screens in Quebec. These deals have been popular lately, as IMAX forgoes juicy upfront installation fees in exchange for a bigger piece of the passive ticketing revenue.

Nice. Just as a column is discussing the number of screens that IMAX plans to have in place by the end of this year -- boom -- here come four more in the greater Montreal area.

I've been a believer in IMAX for years. It's been a market beater both times that I have recommended IMAX as an investment to Rule Breakers newsletter subscribers. As part of the CAPScall initiative for accountability, I've also had a bullish IMAX call on Motley Fool CAPS for some time.

All the world's a stage for IMAX, and investors can bite into a dynamic growth company in an otherwise moribund industry at a value investing price.

If you want to see how premium cinema holds up beyond today's matinee, consider addingRealDandIMAXto My Watchlist. If you're ready for a different kind of feature presentation, ask yourself if you know the two words that arescaring the dance moves out of Steve Ballmer. It's a free report, but like a hot theatrical release, it won't be showing forever -- socheck it out now.

At the time this article was published Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of IMAX. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure 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 theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

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