Shares in DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. dropped nearly 8 percent on Friday, the day after announcing a restructuring of the feature film division that includes 500 layoffs and scaling back the number of movies released.
The Glendale studio fell $1.64 to close at a 52-week low of $19.67 on the Nasdaq. At times during trading hours shares decreased by more than $2 before recovering somewhat. DreamWorks shares last hit the $19 mark in July.
DreamWorks is making drastic changes to its primary business, cutting its annual film output from three to two films and closing its Redwood City facility. The studio has about 2,200 workers between Glendale and its northern California outpost. Additionally, two top executives – the chief operating office and chief marketing officer – are leaving the company.
Analysts on Friday began to weigh in on the moves made by the studio. Janney Montgomery Scott analyst Tony Wible downgraded shares to “sell,” while Cowen analyst Doug Creutz downgraded his stock rating to “underperform.”
One analyst questioned whether it will do any good for DreamWorks to reduce its film output. Vasily Karasyov, with Sterne Agee Group Inc., a Birmingham, Ala. brokerage, wrote in a note that even with the reduction, original movies from DreamWorks will likely continue to suffer financial woes because of the high production and marketing expenses associated with its films.
“The probability of the company’s next release losing money remains high,” Karasyov wrote. “In general, films with worldwide box office of $300 million can be profitable but not if they cost $120 million to produce and $160 million to release.”
That studio lost more than $46 million in the first three quarters of last year, devastating the share price which is now about 40 percent lower than a year ago.
The feature film business has been the main source of woe for the company.
In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday, the studio said it expects a $55 million write-down in the fourth quarter related to “Penguins of Madagascar,” its latest film, and “Peabody and Sherman,” released last spring.
The studio had a breakout hit with “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” which was released in June and has generated more than $600 million in worldwide ticket sales. But over the last two years the studio has taken $158 million of write-downs on three films, “Mr. Peabody and Sherman,” “Turbo” and “Rise of the Guardians.”
The studio’s next film, “Home,” about the takeover of Earth by an alien race, is to be released March 27. It is the only film DreamWorks brings to theaters this year. In his note, Karasyov said that if “Home” has the same box office performance as “Penguins of Madagascar,” the studio risks a loss of $45 million.
The downsizing will force the Glendale studio to take a pretax restructuring charge of $290 million primarily in the quarter ended Dec. 31, with the remainder spread out over this year and next. About $60 million of the charge is related to severance, benefits and other obligations to employees.
Thursday's announcement included the unexpected departures of Chief Operating Officer Mark Zoradi and Chief Marketing Officer Dawn Taubin by March 31. Zoradi only joined DreamWorks in July, while Taubin became marketing head in August 2013.
The filing also said that the company’s vice chairman, Lewis Coleman, would be stepping down from its board by Jan. 30.
Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg said the plan will deliver better box office results and growing profitability for all business divisions.
“The number one priority for DreamWorks Animation’s core film business is to deliver consistent creative and financial success,” Katzenberg said in a prepared statement.
Early this month, Katzenberg made other management changes, naming Bonnie Arnold and Mireille Soria as co-presidents of feature animation. They replaced Bill Damaschke who stepped down after serving as chief creative officer since 2011.