Don't look now, but SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE:SEAS) is dousing short-sellers as if they were sitting in the Splash Zone at one of its killer whale shows. SeaWorld stock soared 15% last week, taking off after analysts at Wells Fargo and Stifel put out bullish notes. SeaWorld also announced the hiring an outsider as its chief strategy officer. The stock is trading at its highest level in more than two years, notching another new high-water mark this morning.
The theme park operator's original park in San Diego is factoring into both of last week's bullish analyst nods. Tim Conder at Wells Fargo kicked things off on Wednesday by discussing the improving trends at SeaWorld San Diego. The park's revenue declined 2.4% in April, according to a City of San Diego public disclosure. This is better news than your probably think. The shift of the Easter school break holiday from April in 2017 to March in 2018 helped boost attendance at regional and national amusement parks in March, but the same dynamic was supposed to reverse itself with sharp declines in April. We're not seeing that. Conder now estimates that SeaWorld San Diego revenue rose 11.2% in March and April combined relative to last year's showing.
He expects the comparisons will be favorable at the park in May and June, fueled in part by SeaWorld San Diego's new Electric Eel coaster. He sees more challenging comparisons at SeaWorld's larger parks in Central Florida given the heavy rains that Tampa and Orlando have experienced in the current quarter, but he naturally remains bullish on the stock. He's sticking to his earlier price target of $22. Stifel analyst Steven Wieczynski at Stifel would step things up a day later, boosting his price goal from $22 to $25.
Whale of a rally
Wieczysnki's new price target of $25 comes after a recent visit to SeaWorld San Diego. He experienced the park's recently implemented measures to boost cost efficiency, walking away encouraged that the turnaround story remains intact. With the stock continuing to trade at a valuation gap relative to its peers, he feels the multiples will expand for SeaWorld Entertainment as it builds on its recent momentum.
SeaWorld's first quarter was a thing of beauty. Revenue rose 16.5%, stunning analysts that were modeling just a 6.5% uptick. A hearty 14.9% increase in attendance and a pop in per-capita in-park spending delivered the unexpectedly strong top-line growth. It also came through with a much smaller quarterly deficit during the seasonally soft period than what Wall Street pros were targeting.
Last week's new executive higher is also interesting. Walter Bogumil being tapped as SeaWorld's chief strategy officer is notable because it's a position that has never existed before. He's also an outsider, coming from Affinity Gaming where he recently served as its interim CEO. Affinity Gaming is a casino operator, something that may seem like an odd fit for a theme park executive, but isn't an amusement park ultimately a casino for kids, teens, and young families? Casinos and theme parks buzz with flashing lights, nighttime shows, and shrieks of delight. If they're doing their jobs right, the house always wins. It will be interesting to see what casino tricks -- if any -- Bogumil brings to the table at SeaWorld. If it plays its cards right, SeaWorld will have a "full house" of park guests.