Wiggles Room at Six Flags

Summer's here, and with it has come some extra market attention aimed at Six Flags (NYSE: SIX  ) . The regional amusement-park operator posted its second-quarter results yesterday. The current quarter is typically the telltale quarter with the peak July and August months, but the second quarter is still a tasty appetizer to hold industry watchers over.

The company saw revenues climb 6% higher to $344.8 million in the three months that ended in June. Attendance rose by 3% to 8.9 million, despite working off of 4% fewer operating days. Per capita revenue rose by 3% to $38.85 per guest.

The improvement didn't make it all the way to the bottom line. Net loss for the quarter widened to $0.50 per share from continuing operations. Unlike Cedar Fair (NYSE: FUN  ) or Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) , Six Flags doesn't have the operating margins to offset the heavy burdens of debt. Analysts prefer to evaluate Six Flags on its adjusted EBITDA, not its lack of profitability. On that front, the company's $57.9 million in adjusted EBITDA clocked in slightly below the $58.6 million it generated a year earlier.

In a perfect world, the company's latest quarter -- and even the ominously "soft" first three weeks of July -- wouldn't matter. This is a company that is barely at the midpoint of its three to four year turnaround plan. It almost feels wrong to sneak a peek beneath the dressing room door.

The company's family-friendly approach is clearly starting to bring money back into the park, yet the high costs of achieving that satisfaction are weighing on the near-term results. Season pass sales are up by 8%, and that is on slightly higher season pass prices.

So where does that leave expectations for the critical third quarter? The company believes that it is too early to tell, though it seems that investors may have to wait until 2008 to see any potential for dramatic EBITDA improvement.

The seeds are already in place. Sponsorships have been a big area of top-line improvement at Six Flags, with corporate sponsors like Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) and Nintendo (OTC BB: NTDOY.PK) on board. It's no longer all about Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO  ) . The company is also cashing in on the popularity of outdoor advertising, and next year will launch Six Flags television and radio in-park networks to give potential advertisers a bigger reason to earmark funds to reach the chain's captive audience.

The Dick Clark Productions acquisition -- which is accretive given the company's $40 million investment for a 40% stake in a company that is generating $17 million in EBITDA (or a multiple of 5.7 on the company's minority stake, nearly half of the Six Flags EBITDA multiple) -- will start paying off by 2008. Six Flags is in the process of replacing some stage shows with less labor-intensive video shows themed to Dick Clark properties like the history of the American Music Awards.

I'm excited about the company's future. I'm concerned about the chain's near-term results. Thankfully, the stock already has a lot of that pessimism baked in. Opportunistic investors may want to wait before cashing in on the potential 2008 turnaround, especially if we're looking at another disappointing quarterly report in three months, but the long-term prognosis is still heavier on the upside at this point.

Other recent Six Flags headlines that will thrill you without taking you upside down:

Nintendo and Disney are recommendations for Motley Fool Stock Advisor subscribers. Home Depot and Coca-Cola have made the cut for Inside Value readers. Cedar Fair is an Income Investor selection.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoys taking his family on coaster treks over the summer. He did his part by hitting Six Flags Great Adventure and Six Flags Great Escape last year. He does own shares in Disney and units in Cedar Fair. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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