The Georgia-based exhibition chain says it’s hunting to buy theaters. But its shares jumped 6.7% today after a Bloomberg story said that it could be the industry’s next big target. Carmike “may offer the best value” for rivals such as Regal and Cinemark that also want to expand. Carmike could be attractive because it has 2,500 screens — and its stock price is relatively cheap. The company trades for about 3.8 times earnings while Regal goes for 23.7 times and Cinemark is 20.3 times. Others have also noted Carmike’s appeal as a takeover target. B. Riley analyst Eric Wold has long made the case that it could give one of the larger chains a lot more clout in negotiating with Hollywood studios. But Carmike CEO David Passman told analysts last month that his company is “actively evaluating potential acquisitions and new builds, as we move toward our target of 300 theaters and 3,000 screens.” Buyers are salivating over many smaller exhibition operations that either can’t afford to pay for digital projection technology as studios phase out celluloid films, or that had to heavily borrow to make the transition. So is Carmike a buyer or seller? With so many big companies looking for deals — including overseas companies following last year’s acquisition of AMC Entertainment by China’s Wanda Group — “one cannot ignore the possibility that Carmike could potentially become a target itself,” says Barrington Research’s James Goss.

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