Income-hungry investors probably miss the good old days when Cedar Fair (NYSE: FUN ) was reliable. Pack light, because it's not much of a trip back in time. You really only need to go back to early next year, before the company piled on the debt to take the Paramount Parks chain off the hands of CBS (NYSE: CBS ) .
If you're finicky, you may as well go back three years, to when Cedar Fair acquired Geauga Lake from Six Flags (NYSE: SIX ) -- another acquisition that has yet to pan out for the regional amusement park operator.
However, to get a real handle on the volatility that Cedar Fair is saddled with these days, all you need to do is look at the wide range of analyst expectations for yesterday's second-quarter report. The four pros following the company were all over the map, their projections ranging from a profit as high as $0.21 a unit to a loss as deep as $0.15 per unit.
Cedar Fair split the difference, earning $0.10 per share during the period. That's half of what the park chain earned a year ago during the same period, but well ahead of the $0.02-per-share average of the analysts standing at double-arms distance from one another.
Attendance on a same-park basis clocked in lower, offset by slightly higher per capita spending. Cedar Fair points to an 11% EBITDA improvement, but that's an easy claim to make. The company's new debt-bloated state comes at a leveraged price, with Cedar Fair's interest payments more than quadrupling. The depreciation and amortization line item has also exploded to account for the Paramount Parks purchase.
A lot is riding on the company's success in improving the performance throughout the Paramount Parks chain. With nearly $1.9 billion in debt on its balance sheet these days, the company's juicy quarterly distributions will be tough to sustain if the company stumbles while integrating the new parks. On the flipside of the volatility coin, material improvement can work wonders on the bottom line.
We'll have a better indication of how things are going at Cedar Fair after it posts its third-quarter results in three months. It will be the first period that includes the Paramount Parks chains during both comparative quarters. It's also the seasonal peak for regional amusement park operators. Let's hope that those income-hungry investors don't wind up satisfying that hunger by biting their nails between now and then.
Read more about the Cedar Fair roller coaster:
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoys taking his family to amusement parks as often as possible. He owns units in Cedar Fair. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool's disclosure policy won't throw you for a loop.