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Beijing Culture Share Price Leap Reflects Chinese New Year Box Office Surprise

The embattled production powerhouse Beijing Culture has emerged as the biggest publicly-listed winner of the Chinese New Year box office bonanza. Its stock price has climbed 18% since the start of the holiday thanks to the success of its hit comedy “Hi Mom.”

The boost is a much needed one following two years of losses and a government investigation late last year that unveiled mismanagement and inaccurate figures in its prior financial statements. The stock has a history of spiking sharply upwards on good news, only to head lower at other times

Investors indicated their renewed or lost confidence in the country’s leading listed film companies by voting with their pocketbooks on Thursday and Friday, the first two days that the Shenzhen and Shanghai stock markets re-opened for business after six days of holiday closures.

While stock rises and falls have somewhat tracked with each company’s respective holiday box office returns, there were some surprises — most notably, a downward dip for Wanda Film, backer of top grossing “Detective Chinatown 3.” Mostly, however, the record-breaking sales of China’s top movie-going week of the year appears to provoked little change for most firms other than Beijing Culture, perhaps indicating that investors are still wary of the unpredictable sector as the pandemic threatens to potential flare. And moves for mainland traded entertainment stock were mostly smaller than for those traded in Hong Kong, such as Imax China, Maoyan and Alibaba Pictures, and where share trading resumed on Tuesday.

Beijing Culture has a track record of backing dark horse titles that unexpectedly break out to become top-earning hits thanks to strong word of mouth. To date, such titles have included 2017’s “Wolf Warrior 2,” 2018’s “Dying to Survive,” and 2019’s Chinese New Year hit “The Wandering Earth.” In the wake of each, its stock price temporarily rose.

Despite that, the company has been facing turmoil amidst its upper executive ranks over the past year, as well as dual crises of unprofitability and a loss of credibility — all combining together into a rather serious existential threat.

Last year, it experienced expected net losses of as much as $122 million (RMB790 million). It had also received two rather serious blows, on top of that.

In mid-December last year, both the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges issued new regulations saying that companies found to have seriously violated the law or to have an annual operating income of less than $15.4 million (RMB100 million) and negative net profits for two consecutive years would be delisted.

On Jan. 3, Beijing Culture confirmed that it had on Dec. 31 received two warning letters from China’s securities regulatory authorities. A government investigation revealed that financial information disclosed in the company’s 2018 annual report was inaccurate, as it had overstated revenues, the firm said. Authorities had also found that the firm had major problems with the management of its subsidiaries.

In wake of the troubling announcements, its stock hit its lowest point of the past six years on Jan. 12 at RMB4.38.

The company may now have a chance at a comeback, however, thanks to the largely unforeseen success of writer-director-actor Jia Ling’s time-travel themed feature “Hi, Mom.”

Since Monday, the tear-jerking family comedy has outpaced the initial Lunar New Year frontrunner “Detective Chinatown 3” in single-day returns, and is now on track to rank among the top grossing titles in Chinese film history. It had earned $549 million (RMB3.56 billion) so far of a projected $799 million (RMB5.18 billion) as of Saturday local time, according to Maoyan data.

Beijing Culture was the film’s main producer, and also participated in its promotion and distribution.

The company’s stock price closed at RMB5.67 on Feb. 10, the last day of stock trading before the holiday, but it jumped more than 10% to RMB6.25 on the first day that trading reopened on Thursday. That was the maximum allowed by China’s stock market circuit breaker mechanism. By close on Friday, it had jumped again, hitting RMB6.71.

As is typical of Chinese films, a battalion of other companies are also credited as involved in the production.

Six other film companies other than Beijing Culture are listed as producers of the film: Alibaba Pictures, New Classics Media, Maoyan Film, Shanghai Ruyi Film, Beijing Jingcai Shijian Culture and Media, and Beijing-based Big Bowl Entertainment. A full 19 firms are listed as “joint production partners,” including China Film Group, HG Entertainment, Huayi Brothers. Four films are listed as distributors (China Film Group, Maoyan, Beijing Jingcai Shijian, and Ruyi Films) and another four as “joint distributors” (Beijing Culture, New Classics Media, HG Entertainment and Lian Ray Pictures).

Meanwhile, Shenzhen-listed Wanda Film hasn’t been as lucky — even though its “Detective Chinatown 3” broke box office records with a $424 million opening weekend and has grossed $595 million (RMB3.86 billion) of a projected $677 million (RMB4.39 billion) as of early Saturday morning local time.

Its stock price hit around RMB22.66 just before close last Wednesday before the holiday, but fell more than 2.5% on the first day back of trading, despite an initial uptick that morning. It fell a further 3.8% on Friday to close at RMB21.2.

Wanda Film is reported to have invested some $68.9 million (RMB447 million) of the estimated $200 million (RMB1.3 billion) budgeted “Detective Chinatown 3,” or around 34%. Given that in China, box office earnings for local films are divided such that the production side takes 37.2%, the firm looks on course to make a profit from the title on its theatrical earnings alone.

The poor stock performance may be due to the fact that despite its huge numbers, the film’s box office  still haven’t quite exceeded public expectations, local financial analyses said, citing anonymous shareholders. The company is expected to have experienced net losses of as much as $1.07 billion (RMB6.95 billion) last year.

Other main backers of major Lunar New Year blockbusters saw mixed results.

Shenzhen-listed Zhejiang Huace Film and TV is the major backer of action adventure “A Writer’s Odyssey,” which has earned $101 million (RMB656 million) so far, to rank a consistent third at the box office. Its stock has dipped 2.3% since before the holiday, closing at $1.05 (RMB6.84) on Friday.

Fourth place grosser “Boonie Bears: The Wild Life” was a boon to its producer Fantawild. The company saw saw its stock price tick upwards by more than 2.7%.

Huayi Brothers and Enlight Media, both listed in Shenzhen, mostly flatlined. The Huayi-backed fantasy “The YinYang Master” came in only sixth in the new year’s box office race, with earnings so far of $35 million (RMB228 million), while the Enlight-backed Andy Lau comedic drama “Endgame” has come in last despite earning the second best word-of-mouth ratings. It has grossed only $33.4 million (RMB217 million) in theaters so far.

China Film Group, operator of China’s second largest cinema circuit, saw its shares rise 1.9% to $2.07 (RMB13.4) since trading resumed.

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