For many businesses winter is the most important time of year, and ski resort operator Vail Resorts (NYSE:MTN) is one of the most seasonally sensitive companies in the stock market. Coming into Monday morning's fiscal third-quarter financial report, Vail Resorts investors had hoped to see dramatic growth compared to last year's poor results, when ski conditions didn't really live up to expectations. The company did manage to produce a bounce in its sales and earnings, but the extent of its gains didn't live up to the higher expectations that investors had for the company. Let's look more closely at how Vail Resorts did this quarter and what's ahead for the summer months.
Vail Resorts sees some of its profit growth melt away
Vail Resorts didn't have a bad quarter by any means. Revenue rose 6.7% to $579.3 million, reflecting better conditions on the slopes than the company saw last year. Earnings also grew substantially, with diluted earnings per share of $3.56 coming in 12% higher than Vail Resorts posted during last year's fiscal third quarter. The problem, though, is that both figures were less than what investors wanted to see, with the consensus figures projecting revenue growth of more than 9% and earnings growth of nearly 18%.
Much of the problem came from mixed performance across Vail Resorts' three main divisions. The mountain segment performed the best, with overall revenue gains of 8.5% coming primarily from a 13% gain in total lift revenue. Revenue from Vail Resorts' ski schools also climbed, offsetting reduced revenue from retail and equipment rentals. Lodging, though, provided somewhat disappointing results, with promising gains of 10% in available daily rate and revenue per available room managing to lift total sales from the unit by less than 2%. Real-estate related revenue dropped by nearly a quarter to $12.5 million.
CEO Rob Katz noted how good a job Vail Resorts did of handling weather-related problems. "Despite the challenging conditions we experienced in Tahoe throughout the season and in Utah this quarter," Katz said, "we continued to see meaningful growth across the business." Katz also pointed to Vail Resorts' solid financial condition, with a restructuring of its debt helping to support the company's dividend and also potentially giving Vail Resorts flexibility in considering future strategic moves.
Can Vail Resorts climb higher?
Katz also commented favorably on season pass sales for the 2015-2016 season. Through late May, pass sales volume climbed 12%, with a 20% rise in corresponding revenue due to pass-price increases. Vail Resorts attributes much of the excitement about its season passes to the work it has done in Park City, where the company has emerged from a long-running legal dispute stronger than ever. Vail Resorts has also done a good job of identifying growth areas generally, citing its destination marketing efforts for driving interest in its key locations even when weather conditions didn't entirely cooperate entirely.
One interesting project investors need to keep an eye on is Vail Resorts' acquisition of the Perisher mountain resort in Australia. Located near the continent's highest peak between Canberra and Melbourne, Perisher is the largest ski resort in the Southern Hemisphere, and Vail Resorts is excited about becoming the only mountain resort company to have world-class ski resorts on two continents. Interestingly, Vail Resorts will add Perisher to its Epic Pass lineup, with cross-use opportunities that will open up both halves of its ski-resort network to pass holders on both sides of the Pacific. With the deal expected to close by the end of 2015, Vail Resorts could also get a nice bonus in the form of an end to its strict seasonal pattern, as Australia's ski season runs during the Northern Hemisphere's summer months. Profits from Perisher could go a long way toward smoothing out Vail Resort's uneven performance over the course of each year.
Vail Resorts could have a very interesting future ahead of it. With interest in resort areas growing and the company's expansion efforts, Vail Resorts has an opportunity to cash in on interest in winter sports. If Mother Nature ever fully cooperates by ending the drought in California and returning Tahoe to more normal conditions, Vail Resorts could grow even stronger in the years to come.