Cedar Fair Is a Win Seeker


Cedar Fair (NYS: FUN) made a big bet on a sky-high swing ride as a marquee addition at several of its parks this year. Guests slowly ascend nearly 300 feet on Windseeker, gradually spin around a few times on secured bulky seats, and begin their meandering descent. This morning's quarterly report out of Cedar Fair is a lot like Windseeker: a slow-moving experience that ultimately goes nowhere.

Revenue grew 3% to $284.5 million, as a nearly 2% increase in attendance and a 1% uptick per capita guest spending combined to narrowly beat the 2% top-line increase that Wall Street was targeting. Fellow regional park operator Six Flags (NYS: SIX) fared better on that front in last week's report, pairing a 9% spike in admission revenue with a 4% increase in in-park revenue to grow its top line nearly twice as strong as Cedar Fair did during the same period.

Cedar Fair's quarterly profit of $0.08 a share reversed a similar deficit during last year's second quarter, but analysts -- like disappointed Windseeker riders -- expected more from the experience.

Wall Street figured that Cedar Fair would earn $0.15 a share during the period, but the pros should be used to overestimating the operator's production on the bottom line by now. This is fifth consecutive quarter in which Cedar Fair has missed analyst income estimates, and the ninth in the past 10 quarters.

This serial underachieving -- coupled with burdensome debt and a rollercoaster ride of a dividend -- made it easy for activists to all but shoo CEO Dick Kinzel through the exit turnstile. The company recently brought in former Disney (NYS: DIS) executive Matt Ouimet to replace Kinzel as CEO when the latter steps down in five months.

The company's seasonally potent third quarter is off to a better start, with revenue clocking in 6% higher in July after a 5% pop in attendance.

This should be a good time to be operating an amusement park. It's the one place outside of concert events where advertisers can cut through the clutter of social networking websites and home-based gaming to reach large and influential youthful audiences.

The companies investing in major additions are reaping rewards. Comcast's (NAS: CMCSK) (NAS: CMCSA) Islands of Adventure in Florida posted a 20% spike in attendance last year after adding a new Harry Potter attraction. Earlier today, Indiana's Holiday World -- easily one of the best regional park you've never visited -- announced that it would be making its largest single-ride investment in the park's history to build the world's longest water coaster.

Cedar Fair is in a bind. Investors want fatter dividend checks, and Cedar Fair is promising a dramatic hike next year. Park guests want new coasters, but we've yet to hear what the company's 2012 investments will be. Can its burdensome balance sheet satisfy both parties?

Windseeker is starting up once more. Here we go in circles, again.

Which amusement parks did you hit up this summer? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

At the time thisarticle was published Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz loves hitting amusement parks; this summer's lineup included Six Flags Great America, Cedar Point, and Kennywood. He does own shares in Disney. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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