There's Nothing Fishy About SeaWorld

There's some good news for consumer-facing companies. Folks apparently are willing to pay up to have a good time.

SeaWorld Entertainment posted its first quarterly results since going public last month, reporting that revenue rose at a healthy 12% clip.

It's not the turnstile clicks driving the gain, though attendance did clock in 2% higher than it did a year earlier. The real driver here was a 10% surge in per-capita spending. Higher admission prices, and a 6% uptick in in-park spending, helped drive SeaWorld's top line higher.

Things weren't as exciting on the bottom line, though SeaWorld's net loss did narrow slightly for the period. Adjusted EBITDA was also positive after clocking in flat a year earlier.

If anything, the only real disappointment here was the mere 2% increase in theme park attendance. SeaWorld had the benefit of Easter falling in March this year. The Easter holiday fell into April -- SeaWorld's second quarter -- last year.

The overall surge in guest spending naturally bodes well for regional amusement park operators Cedar Fair and Six Flags, which are just kicking off their operating calendars at their seasonal attractions. Most of SeaWorld's parks are open year round.

The year-round operations in touristy areas isn't necessarily a ticket to industry-envying margins. SeaWorld's guidance for all of 2013 calls for adjusted EBITDA in the range of $430 million to $440 million, on $1.46 billion to $1.49 billion in revenue. This translates into adjusted EBITDA margins of 28.9% to 30.1%. Stack that up to Cedar Fair's earlier guidance of 35.9% to 36.7% in adjusted EBITDA margins -- or the 35.8% in adjusted EBITDA margins at Six Flags over the past four quarters -- and SeaWorld may come off as a slacker.

However, SeaWorld is growing faster than the two regional giants. SeaWorld grew its revenue by 11% in 2011, and another 7% in 2012. Six Flags and Cedar Fair haven't posted better than 6% growth in either year.

SeaWorld has also clearly resonated with investors since going public at $27 a share last month. Blackstone Group may be kicking itself for selling 16 million shares in the IPO at a discount to today's market price, but the private equity firm isn't so dumb. Blackstone still has a controlling interest in the theme park operator.

It's shaping up to be a strong summer season for the amusement park industry. Gas prices have fallen since spiking earlier this year. Consumers are feeling somewhat confident about the economy's direction. Now that we have confirmation that guests are willing to pay up to get into parks, and spending even more money once they get inside, it's shaping up to be a summer of fun for all of the publicly traded chains.

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