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Examining AMC’s ‘embarrassingly stupid’ investment in a literal gold mine

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“What is he thinking?”

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Image: The Verge

AMC threw both its analysts and memestock shareholders for a loop this week after the company announced it was acquiring a 22 percent stake in a mining company. Not a crypto mining company — a company that mines actual silver and gold. It’s a baffling investment for a movie theater chain, enough so that one analyst we spoke to called it a “complete misuse of shareholder capital.”

To acquire a minority stake in Hycroft Mining Holding Corporation, AMC is spending close to $28 million, a not-insignificant chunk of change for a company that not so long ago was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Hycroft, owner of the 71,000-acre Hycroft Mine in Nevada, is sitting on “some 15 million ounces of gold deposits and some 600 million ounces of silver deposit,” if AMC’s press release is to be taken at its word. AMC boss Adam Aron characterized the investment as “a bold diversification move.”

“Our strategic investment being announced today is the result of our having identified a company in an unrelated industry that appears to be just like AMC of a year ago,” Aron said in a statement. “It, too, has rock-solid assets, but for a variety of reasons, it has been facing a severe and immediate liquidity issue. Its share price has been knocked low as a result. We are confident that our involvement can greatly help it to surmount its challenges — to its benefit, and to ours.”

Analysts, however, aren’t so sure of AMC’s latest recovery experiment. Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities called the move “idiotic,” specifically pointing to AMC’s outstanding debt.

“It’s embarrassingly stupid. By that, I don’t mean investing in gold mining is embarrassingly stupid. I mean that it’s inappropriate for a movie theater company to step so far out of their core business and into some completely unrelated business that will not drive any traffic to their theaters,” Pachter told The Verge by phone. “It’s a complete misuse of shareholder capital, and it’s not as if they’re swimming in cash and they’ve got nothing better to do. They have debt. Pay down some debt.”

Pachter isn’t the only analyst raising an eyebrow at a cinema chain banking on literal gold. Eric Handler, a media and entertainment analyst with MKM Partners, highlighted the riskiness of AMC “investing valuable capital into a very speculative venture,” particularly one that is “outside of its core competencies.”

As part of the theater chain’s rollercoaster recovery during the pandemic, AMC’s CEO has pandered heavily to memestock investors — indulging them with meme-fueled strategies like accepting Dogecoin and offering NFTs tied to major theatrical releases. AMC has also tried to break into the food sale and delivery business with its Perfectly Popcorn venture, pegged to what Aron described recently as a “multibillion-dollar popcorn industry.”

But all of these kooky experiments are more or less tied to AMC’s core business: bringing people into theaters and putting butts in its auditorium seats. The mining investment is a notable deviation in Aron’s otherwise eccentric — but arguably cohesive — business strategy. Aron himself acknowledged that “one would not normally think that a movie theatre company’s core competency includes gold or silver mining.”

The connection between AMC and the precious metals business may not be quite as mysterious as it first appeared, though. Hycroft was taken public through its merger with blank-check company Mudrick Capital Acquisition Corporation in May of 2020. That business is tied to investor Jason Mudrick, whose investment firm Mudrick Capital Management injected $100 million into AMC in December of 2020 to help the theater chain avert bankruptcy. How very happenstance!

Hycroft is poised to reap a $56 million dollar infusion between AMC’s investment and a match by precious metals investor Eric Sprott, both of whom are investing $27.9 million. Noting AMC’s ability in recent years to turn around its own struggling business, Aron added, “It is all that experience and skill that we bring to the table to assist the talented mining professionals at Hycroft.” The results, he told shareholders, “will be quite lucrative.”

Pachter isn’t so sure, noting again that this is a significant departure away from other recent ventures that — while niche and meme-y — still align with its core movie business.

“Any way that you can get people to buy more tickets — good for him. But investing in a gold mine? What is he thinking?” Pachter said. “I don’t care if they’re a similarly downtrodden company.”

With his precious metals bet, Aron is seemingly pivoting from memestock daddy to risky investor at a time when AMC is still trying to steady the ship post-pandemic. Eventually, Aron is going to have to answer for it. In the meantime, somebody pass the Perfectly Popcorn.