Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Is it worth investing in weekend openers at the last minute?

The short answer is yes, often it is.  And these can be the safest, most profitable investments around.

You'll often see traders saying that they think the weekend openers are priced about right, and that they'll be sticking their money elsewhere over the weekend.  Even though it takes the fun out of the weekend, this can be sound trading practice - if the weekend works out like you predict it will.

However, it's worth looking at how frequently the box office exceeds (or disappoints) the expectations of not just traders, but everyone involved in the movie industry.

In 2012 alone, you had the first $200+ million opening weekend ever, a movie where children are forced to fight to the death open above $150 million, a movie about a talking teddy bear open above $60 million.  and even the Bond movie open 30 per cent higher than any other Bond movie.  And that's not even considering the movie-going public's bizarre fascination with Channing Tatum.

Here's the full list of 2012 wide releases to date, comparing their price at reset on Friday morning with their eventual adjust price.  If you were invested the right way on all of these, you would have had gains of over $180 million on these investments.  For those who like charts, here's how it looks broken down by weekend.

The three weekends that stand out immediately are the weekend before President's Day weekend (with The Vow and Safe House both opening above $40 million, and two other openers each earning a further $20 million), the weekend The Avengers opened, and the weekend both Ted and Magic Mike opened.  And that's not counting other 2012 surprises like The Lorax and The Hunger Games.

$180 million in gains isn't unusually high either - in 2011 the total gains from weekend openers were $162 million, and in 2010, they were $173 million.  Because I like making charts, here's the one for 2011 openers:

The stand-out weekends are for the final Harry Potter movie, Paranormal Activity 3 (combined with a couple of poor performers) and the lower-than-expected opening of the last Sherlock Holmes and Chipmunk sequels.

And for 2010:

That huge weekend in March is for the Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland, with other $7 million-plus gainers being the President's Day weekend, the weekend Shrek 4 and MacGruber tanked, the weekend The Karate Kid and the A-Team remakes opened, the July 4 weekend and the weekend Jackass 3-D and Red over-performed.

While the amount of money to be gained on a yearly basis is relatively consistent, there's no clear pattern for when movies open much higher (or lower) than anticipated by the market.  2012 saw several movies over-perform early in the year, but there was less money to be made from the adjusts after July.  On the other hand, 2011 had eight of its top money-making weekends fall in the last half of the year. As you would expect, the timing of money-making opportunities from the openers isn't predictable - it comes down to how each individual movie performs relative to expectations.

So while you might think on Thursday that there's not much money to be made on the openers, this can frequently change when early box office numbers come in on Friday evenings.  So keep an eye out then, and play accordingly.

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