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If I Have to Buy 1 Fun Stock in 2009

By Rick Munarriz - Updated Apr 5, 2017 at 6:54PM

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Let's consider leisure stocks as we look to the new year.

2008 is, mercifully, just a few trading days away from being history.

Rather than be fashionably late in mourning the losses, let's take a look at some of the opportunities for 2009.

I have taken a look at the one search engine I would like to own for the year ahead, as well as the one Chinese growth stock and the one restaurant stock. Today I'll turn my attention to leisure stocks.

Stocks just want to have fun
Where have all the good times gone? Consumer-facing companies have taken a bath this year. Unless you happen to offer cheap burgers, superhero blockbusters, or DVDs by mail, you're probably staring at a woeful 2008.

I certainly don't expect the economy to improve in the near term. However, I know that recession-smacked consumers still need a little escape from the gloom and doom. Companies that are able to provide superior entertainment experiences at a reasonable price should fare well next year.

And the runners-up are ...
Believe it or not, it's hard to narrow this sector down to just a few potential winners. I actually have several runners-up, and you will probably warm up to a few of them once you hear their story.

I'll start with Cedar Fair (NYSE:FUN). The regional amusement park operator is coming off a respectable quarter. Attendance inched higher at its parks during the telltale summer quarter, weighed down by a decrease in guest spending. Investors are also getting a 15.3% yield right now; with the company's $1.7 billion in debt and a recession under way, that dividend would be scrapped if profitability begins to suffer.

However, the reason that I like Cedar Fair here is that as a seasonal park, it's in hibernation right now. No matter how bad the economy gets in the coming months, most of its parks are closed until April and May. This gives the economy a shot to at least show some signs of life around the time that income tax refunds start coming in.

Another leisure stock I really like is Nintendo (OTC BB: NTDOY.PK). The Japanese video game titan rarely misses. It has the market's leading video game console with the Wii and the top handheld device with its Nintendo DS. Unlike other console makers, most of Nintendo's leading games are homegrown. So it gets to cash in on the high-margin software side. A pronounced recession means more family nights in, and the Wii is there with its innovative family-friendly games.

Multiplex operators may also fare well through the downturn, as long as Hollywood keeps delivering hits. Stiff box office prices may lead movie buffs to wait to catch the flicks at home. That plays well for  Blockbuster (NYSE:BBI), especially given the narrowing windows between cinematic runs and eventual DVD releases. On the other end of the celluloid spectrum, I'm not keen on the exhibitors but I do like IMAX (NASDAQ:IMAX). If you're going to go out to the movies, you may as well pay a premium to experience it at a level that can never be duplicated in a home theater.

Life Time Fitness (NYSE:LTM) is another compelling play. Gym memberships may seem like the first luxury item to go in a soft economy, but there are also social elements, a need to network, and pounds to lose at play. Analysts see the company growing its top and bottom lines in 2009, yet the stock is trading at just six times forward earnings.

The last runner-up is Southwest (NYSE:LUV). As far as airlines go, it is the one that can hold its breath the longest underwater. Despite a loss in its most recent quarter, it remained profitable over the past 12 months -- faring much better than its peers with chunky overhead costs. Plunging fuel prices will make more carriers profitable, but that only means that Southwest will be making even more money than before. Nothing exemplifies escapism more than Southwest's "wanna get away" campaign, and I like the company a lot in 2009.

And the winner is: Activision Blizzard
The best bang for your buck in 2009 here is Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI). The company behind the Guitar Hero, World of Warcraft, and Call of Duty franchises is now the industry's top dog.

There has been plenty of negative news in the sector, but Activision Blizzard has consistently held up its side of the bargain with shareholders. It has blown past Wall Street expectations all year long, even as lesser players have skidded.

Just as the Wii has made staying in a family-friendly experience, Activision Blizzard has made it cool. How many retailer ads have you seen over the holidays with families playing Guitar Hero World Tour? The stock rocks, in every conceivable way.

Other items on the list:

IMAX is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Nintendo and Activision Blizzard are Stock Advisor recommendations. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is always looking for fun stocks and even owns the F-U-N stock. Yes, he owns 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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Stocks Mentioned

Southwest Airlines Co. Stock Quote
Southwest Airlines Co.
$38.34 (-1.89%) $0.74
IMAX Corporation Stock Quote
IMAX Corporation
$15.96 (-4.14%) $0.69
Activision Blizzard, Inc. Stock Quote
Activision Blizzard, Inc.
$80.59 (-0.51%) $0.41
Cedar Fair, L.P. Stock Quote
Cedar Fair, L.P.
$42.80 (0.80%) $0.34

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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