The rides at Six Flags (NYSE: SIX ) are supposed to surprise you, not its quarterly reports. However, that is exactly what the regional amusement park operator did this morning, surprising the market with an unexpected second-quarter profit.
Yes, the reported $0.63 a share profit is bogus. It consists mostly of a one-time accounting gain as a result of an early debt extinguishment during the period. The key word there is "mostly" because Six Flags would still have squeezed out a tiny profit from continuing operations absent the paper windfall. Analysts were expecting the company to post a $0.19-a-share loss, heading into the seasonally significant summer quarter.
Revenue inched 1% higher to $345.7 million, also ahead of analyst expectations. A 3% dip in attendance was offset by gains in per capita guest spending and improvements in the chain's generation of sponsorship and licensing revenue.
The company's report comes on the heels of a surprisingly lively weekend in terms of industry news. Despite posting weaker year-over-year attendance at its stateside resorts, Disney (NYSE: DIS ) announced that it is hiking admission prices to its Florida theme parks. It will now set you back a whopping $75 for a click through Disney's turnstile.
Also, it was reported that private equity firm Blackstone Group (NYSE: BX ) is interested in a hookup with Anheuser-Busch's (NYSE: BUD ) theme parks. Blackstone already owns stakes in iconic attractions like Universal Orlando, LEGOLAND, and England's Alton Towers.
Both Disney and Six Flags blamed the slower turnstiles on the timing of the Easter holiday (which took place in March this year, but it was in April in 2007). Rival Cedar Fair (NYSE: FUN ) will complete the industry snapshot with its quarterly report tomorrow.
This doesn't mean that Six Flags is out of the woods just yet. The company's balance sheet is still anchored by negative book value and nearly $2.3 billion in long-term debt. It also held off on declaring a dividend on its convertible PIERS for two quarters. CEO Mark Shapiro notes that the company is on track to post positive free cash flow this year, for the first time in its history, but we still have to get through two-thirds of the telltale current quarter.
As encouraging as it is to see margins and cash flow improve dramatically during the period -- as shaving $21.3 million in operating costs didn't get in the way of guests opening up their billfolds wider in a tricky economic climate -- the ride is far from over.
This morning's better than expected report is a neat twist, but there's plenty of track left before this year's ride pulls into the station.
Other ways to throw up your hands and enjoy the ride: