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"We join this call today with heavy hearts," Six Flags (NYSE: SIX ) CEO James Reid-Anderson said in kicking off this morning's quarterly earnings report.
A woman died on a wooden roller coaster at Six Flags Over Texas on Friday, and the regional amusement park operator was hosting the call from the gated attraction in Arlington as executives try to get to the bottom of the situation.
Fatal park accidents are rare, but they certainly do happen at all chains.
Six Flags also didn't do itself any favors by posting uninspiring financial results. Revenue fell 3% to $363.7 million. Six Flags attributes most of the shortfall to the timing of the Easter holiday, but analysts who know how religious calendars work were still holding out for $370 million in revenue. Adjusted earnings of $0.47 a share also fell well short of Wall Street expectations.
Sure, Six Flags can point to marginal growth when we look at the first half of the year to nullify the Easter timing. Revenue increased 3%, and attendance moved 1% higher over the first six months of the year.
This probably doesn't bode well for rival Cedar Fair (NYSE: FUN ) when it reports in two weeks.
Cedar Fair also made unfortunate headlines on Friday when a flume ride log flipped during a ride, but at least it seems as if all seven passengers escaped major injury.
Six Flags points out that it still has 60% of its historical attendance to come in 2013, but a slow start is never a good thing. With the economy showing signs of life and gasoline prices staying in line, all indicators pointed to a strong summer season.
Now investors have a reason to fret. Six Flags, Cedar Fair, and the recently public SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE: SEAS ) all opened lower on Monday after the Six Flags report.
It wasn't an entirely bad report. Despite drawing a greater percentage of season pass holders -- a group that naturally doesn't spend as much in a single visit to the park as one-day guests -- total guest per capita spending actually increased during the period.
Six Flags is successfully weaning customers off big discounts. Its push to promote annual memberships with attractive monthly installments should also pay off next year, as those plans renew automatically (unlike season passes that expire at the end of the year).
The industry better hope that things pick up during the latter half of the summer. Six Flags and Cedar Fair generate yields of 5% and 5.9%, respectively. SeaWorld just splashed onto the scene a few months ago, but it, too, knew that it had to come packing a decent payout. The marine life park operator's yield currently stands at 2.1%, but it would have been much higher if the IPO hadn't popped out of the gate.
If these chains are to keep their generous distributions coming, naturally we can't have money going in the wrong direction.
Park goers may love wild rides, but investors probably don't feel the same way about their portfolios.
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