Exhibition industry investors are raising the question today after the No. 1 chain whiffed in its Q4 earnings report last night.regal cinemas Revenues and earnings fell short of expectations. But many are particularly concerned about the disclosure that attendance per screen fell 7.8% in Q4 to 7,336. (Revenues still increased, helped by a 4.7% jump in the average outlay for a ticket — to $9.28 — mostly from people willing to pay extra to see Gravity in 3D.) The report chilled some investors: Exhibition stocks are lagging the overall market, which is up, with Regal -1.5% in afternoon trading. The weak attendance number feeds into the concern that 2014 will be a blah year at the box office. Although Q1 results are tracking ahead of expectations “we are projecting a modest 1% decline for the year with an especially difficult summer comparison,” MKM Partners’ Eric Handler says. Short interest — the number of investors betting that a stock will go down — “has increased to 16.7M shares, representing 19 days of average volume,” Benchmark Co analyst Mike Hickey notes. But Janney Capital Markets’ Tony Wible says things may be better than Regal’s Q4 numbers suggest. The year end results “may have been skewed” by the launch of Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s XBox One game consoles. They “sold more units in their first day than they did over almost 2-3 months with their prior console launches,” he says. “If true, the box office may be healthier than appreciated.” What’s more, he’s “shocked that the box office has done so well in the face of horrible East Coast weather conditions.”

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