SeaWorld IPOs -- but Beware Sharks In the Water

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Nailed it!

In Friday's IPO of SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE: SEAS  ) , private-equity powerhouse and still-SeaWorld majority owner Blackstone (NYSE: BX  ) succeeded in floating an IPO (pun intended) at the very tippity-top of its hoped-for price range. The $27-per-share IPO valued the company at $2.5 billion -- and after a quick 24% spike on the first day of trading, the company now carries a humpbacked market cap of $3.1 billion.

Which is, quite simply, insane.

A whale of a market cap
Why do I think the SeaWorld IPO was overpriced, and that the post-IPO price spike makes the stock more so? Well, just look at the numbers.

Last year, SeaWorld earned all of $77 million from its business. It generated a bit more cash than that, granted -- $112 million, according to SEC filing. So viewed in the most favorable light, this $3.1 billion stock is now selling for more than 27 times trailing free cash flow. Even in an industry where the average business is expected to increase its profits at roughly 16% annually over the next five years, that valuation looks stretched.

Viewed less favorably, SeaWorld stock costs 40 times earnings. That's as compared with similar amusement park operators including Six Flags (NYSE: SIX  ) , Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) , and Cedar Fair (NYSE: FUN  ) , which sell for anywhere from 11 times earnings (Six Flags) to 23 (Cedar Fair). So once again, the stock appears overpriced given that it carries a market cap higher than any of its peers. And this, of course, is before you even consider the effect that SeaWorld's $1.8 billion in debt has on the stock's valuation. Factor that into the picture, and we're arguably looking at an enterprise costing 64 times annual earnings, and 44 times free cash flow.

Feeding on krill
Granted, SeaWorld tried to allay investor concerns with assurances that it will be drawing down capital spending in the years to come, aiming to boost free cash flow and hold capex down to no more than 10% of annual revenues. Were this promise applied to last year's results, SeaWorld could theoretically have hauled in $50 million in cash profits than it actually did.

Still, that doesn't look like enough profit to justify the stock's price -- not to this Fool, at least. Fact is, even if SeaWorld makes good on its promise to begin paying a $0.20 quarterly dividend next quarter, investors chasing the 2.4% dividend yield that this implies look likely to take a bath on this IPO.

My advice to new owners of the SeaWorld IPO? Enjoy the ride while it lasts. Because sooner or later, you're gonna get dunked.

The Motley Fool's chief investment officer has selected his No. 1 stock for the year. Find out which stock it is in the brand-new free report: "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2013." Just click here to access the report and find out the name of this under-the-radar company.

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Rich Smith

I like things that go "boom." Sonic or otherwise, that means I tend to gravitate towards defense and aerospace stocks. But to tell the truth, over the course of a dozen years writing for The Motley Fool, I have covered -- and continue to cover -- everything from retailers to consumer goods stocks, and from tech to banks to insurers as well. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for the most important developments in defense & aerospace news, and other great stories besides.

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