AMC IPO: Now with Your Movie Ticket, You Can Buy a Piece of the Action

AMC cinemas at the Block in Orange, California.

Barely a year has passed since Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group completed its $2.6 billion purchase of U.S.-based movie theater chain AMC Entertainment. In one fell swoop, that deal made it the world's biggest cinema operator -- with 432 theaters.

Now, 15 months later, Wanda is ready to turn around and IPO AMC on the U.S. stock market -- and great news! They want to let you in on the deal.

From Stubs-Member to Stockholder

AMC operates a customer loyalty program that it calls "Stubs." Participants in this program pay a $12 annual membership fee. In return, they get benefits such as:

  • $10 in movie theater credit for every $100 they spend at the theaters

  • free upgrades on concessions in the lobby

  • and a waiver of fees for buying tickets online.

The prospect of "making your money back" after seeing just two films a year probably makes the program worthwhile all on its own. But this week, AMC added another bonus to the fringe benefits of its Stubs program: Loyal customers now get a chance to buy shares of AMC's stock on the cheap.

Technically, AMC says the stock program is for its "employees," but as CEO Gerry Lopez explained : "We're offering this exclusive employee benefit to our AMC Stubs members to express our sincere gratitude for your loyalty."

The Details

According to the pitch, anyone who's a member of Stubs will be allowed to buy as little as $100 to as much as $2,500 worth of AMC shares at the IPO price, commission-free, by using the free online broker Loyal3. AMC currently plans to price the shares between $18 and $20. This could prove to be a very valuable fringe benefit, as it will give Stubs members a rare opportunity to "get in" on an IPO at the offer price, and to profit from any immediate jump in AMC's share price in the first minutes and hours after the stock begins trading.

But there are caveats.

First and foremost, there's absolutely no guarantee that AMC shares will go up in price at all, much less skyrocket. Indeed, a 2011 study conducted by BusinessWeek revealed that after initially "popping" from their IPO price, 20 of the 25 hottest IPOs held in 2010 and 2011 "tanked." While it's certainly conceivable that an investor might buy shares at the IPO, time his or her exit just right, and sell before the stock price drops, knowing when to sell is always an exercise in guesswork.

Not to put too fine a point on it: If a stock jumps right out of the gate, and never looks back -- see: Tesla (TSLA), Twitter (TWTR) -- but you decide to make a quick couple bucks by selling after the first "pop," you'll kicking yourself for years.

On the other hand, The New York Times cites multiple studies showing the downside -- severe -- of holding on too long. One study showed that nearly half of all IPOs ultimately lose money, and the median IPO loses as much as 30 percent of its value over the three years post-IPO. Another study suggests that nearly a third of companies that IPO go bankrupt within 10 years.

So ... Should You Buy the IPO or Not?

Which kind of IPO AMC will turn out to be is anybody's guess. But there are at a few numbers floating around that suggest that AMC's business isn't doing very well.

For example, so far this year, AMC Entertainment posted $2.03 billion in sales. Yes, that was up 4 percent from the $1.96 billion in revenues the company had collected by this time, last year. But meanwhile, rival theater operator Regal Entertainment Group (RGC) was growing more than twice as fast, its revenues up 9.4 percent.

Regal's also a more profitable operation than AMC, boasting 12.7 percent operating profit margins on its superior revenues over the past year, versus the mere 7.7 percent margin that AMC pulled down.

Now, it's entirely possible that with new management from China, and a fresh infusion of cash from Stubs members, and other IPO investors, AMC will be able to turn itself around an catch up to the competition. But if AMC continues the way it's been going, this "free" fringe benefit of getting a piece of the AMC IPO could turn into an expensive mistake for Stubs members.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Tesla Motors.