It's forgivable to have slept through this morning's Six Flags (NYSE: SIX ) earnings report.
The first three months are historically forgettable. Most of the regional amusement park operators' attractions are closed. A chunky loss is a given. The chain generates roughly 6% of the more than $1 billion it will ultimately generate in revenue this year.
However, Six Flags has become fiscally relevant since emerging from bankruptcy last year. The first quarter provides a glimpse into trends that may play out over the course of the year when the stakes -- and turnstile clicks -- are higher.
Six Flags' financials were better than expected, but nothing to tweet home about. Revenue climbed 7% to $61 million. The thrill specialist's deficit of $2.94 a share may seem steep, but it's far less than the $3.54 a share that analysts were targeting.
Fret not, shareholders. This is the new and balance-sheet-improved Six Flags on display. It should be able to more than overcome the first quarter's loss during the next two seasonally potent quarters.
There are also some meaty trends here. It's not as if the few Southern parks that were open during the first three months of 2011 were a lot more crowded this year. Attendance inched a mere 1% higher. It was an 11% pop in admissions and a 10% gain from in-park sales that boosted Six Flags' top-line results.
We'll see if that holds up as the rest of the parks open up during the current quarter.
These are interesting times for the park operators. Rival Cedar Fair (NYSE: FUN ) reports Thursday, as its executives have been locking horns with the activist investors at Q Funding. Great Wolf Resorts (Nasdaq: WOLF ) reports tomorrow. The chain of rustic lodges with massive indoor water parks has posted quarterly losses in eight of the past nine periods.
Things are also heating up on the larger theme park stage. Disney (NYSE: DIS ) reports a week from today, but that's not the big story. Comcast's (Nasdaq: CMCSA ) majority-owned NBC Universal has to decide in the coming days if it wants to buy Blackstone's (NYSE: BX ) stake in Universal Orlando or if it will put the entire resort on the bidding block. Attendance soared at Universal Orlando last year after the opening of the richly detailed Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure.
Still sleeping? Wake up. Regional parks are just getting started in what promises to be a bumpy season where discretionary income levels, new thrill rides, and gas prices dictate where the winners are queued up.
Would you buy into the amusement park industry ahead of the 2011 season? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.