AMC Theaters CEO Says Stock Is ‘Under Attack’ From Short Sellers

(Bloomberg) — The chief executive officer of AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. said the movie-theater chain is once again “under attack” from short sellers after skirting bankruptcy during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The volume of short sales — bets that the stock will go down — rose about 50% in March to 73.8 million shares, CEO Adam Aron said in a discussion with the social-media finance commentator Trey Collins. In a wide-ranging interview, he also touched on a proposal to raise new equity and praised the meme investors who bid the stock up to more than $20 a share in January.

The shares have since retreated from that lofty level. But they rose as much as 9.4% on Thursday after Aron said he has no immediate plans to issue any of the 500 million new shares the company is asking shareholders to authorize. The company won’t seek to sell those shares in 2021 but rather in the coming years. Aron is seeking to carry out a long-term growth plan that could silence AMC’s doubters.

“There are strategies we have that are very good for AMC, to come out of this pandemic, to rebuild this company,” Aron said. “But not only get back to where we were, I’d like to keep going. And I’d like to grow this company even more so.”

Shirting Collapse

Aron also reflected on the difficult stretch the theater chain endured. In 2019, revenue averaged $450 million a month. It slumped virtually to zero a little over a year ago, after the pandemic forced theaters to close. The chain was weeks away from running out of cash at least five times, and has since restructured its finances, banking enough cash to last through most of 2021.

Other theaters have succumbed to the Covid-19-struggle. ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theatres, two jointly owned California movie-theater chains, announced plans this week to close permanently, underscoring the still-tenuous state of the industry.

If short-term funding needs arise, AMC has a prior authorization to sell 43 million new shares. Aron said that’s enough to get the company through the pandemic, but limits its growth opportunities. If investors at the May 4 annual meeting approve the plan for additional stock, he’ll gain flexibility to buy back debt at a discount or acquire another chain at an attractive price, which would counteract any dilution.

The theater chain has about 450 million shares outstanding now, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Aron’s remarks were included in a regulatory filing Thursday.

Praise for Traders

Aron, who has long been known as outspoken, also praised the internet investors who see themselves as fighting against “conventional” market participants, like short sellers who profit when stock prices decline. He connected with Collins, who offers online investment commentary under the username Trey’s Trades, after his 30-year-old son saw a tweet that Collins had sent to his nearly 50,000 followers, known as “apes.”

“My hat’s off to you,” Aron said. “I’m well aware that you have been talking about AMC a lot over the last few months and you have, you know, hundreds of thousands of subscribers, tens and tens of thousands of people watching your shows on the YouTube channel,” Aron said.

“I actually work for you,” he said, “and for that reason it’s a special reason for me to engage with all of you.”

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