I've been looking at potential 2008 winners in different sectors in recent weeks. For those scoring at home, we've covered retail, Internet, restaurants, and even Chinese stocks. It was really just a matter of time before I relaxed long enough to turn my attention to leisure stocks.
For the most part, companies that enrich our lives through entertainment have been out of favor lately. Investors fear that disposable income will dry up, while many leisure providers are coping with bubbling overhead stemming from things like minimum-wage hikes and energy-price spikes.
I don't buy it. Are we just going to clam up and stop spending money on the things we enjoy? If some of the weaker players buckle, won't that give the better-positioned players the pricing elasticity they seek to boost margins?
Let's take a look at a few of the companies I think will beat the market in the year ahead.
2008 will be a very important year for the amusement park industry. It will be the third year that Cedar Fair has watched over the Paramount Parks chain. It will also be the third year that Six Flags
Since both companies pointed to three-year turnaround plans before the 2006 summer seasons, next summer will be the time for both companies to prove they made the right decisions.
I believe in both companies. I even own shares in both companies. I'll single out Cedar Fair as the 2008 winner, because it's the one with the easier path back. It remains consistently profitable. Its beefy yield of 8.7% will make the waiting bearable, even though slashing the dividend is always possible if conditions deteriorate.
A lot is out of the hands of the regional operators. Local economies and inclement weather can unravel turnaround plans that looked so good on paper. No one can predict those variables. However, if everything holds constant, the third year should be the charm for this industry, which could sorely use an ego boost.
It's been another ho-hum year at the multiplex. Market researcher Media by Numbers had movie theater attendance off by 10% this holiday season through early December, compared to last year. Why is it time to get excited about an exhibitor enabler that has produced little more than lackluster financials, an accounting slip, and a botched sale throughout 2007?
Well, let's just say that the company's deal to install 100 digital projection screens in a joint venture with AMC changes everything. Half of those systems will be in place in 50 of AMC's largest theaters in time for the upcoming summer season.
Vindicating both the IMAX premium platform and its digital delivery system is huge for the company. Analysts are all over the map as to what this deal will mean for IMAX's financials. Earnings estimates for all of 2008 range from a loss of $0.40 a share to a profit of $0.24 a share. The real meat here is that any initial success will force other exhibitors to follow the lead of the country's second-largest multiplex operator. It will also give IMAX more negotiating leverage with film studios who will want their films screened on the incremental platform.
XM Satellite Radio
I singled out XM last year as a stock to sell in 2007, and I was right. Even with its deal to merge with Sirius
2008 should play out differently. If the deal goes through, XM and Sirius may be oozing positive free cash flow as the combined entity watches over more than 16 million subscribers. If the merger is killed, XM will remain the largest player even if Sirius is growing faster.
This isn't a true duopoly, of course. Automakers are putting iPod jacks in more 2008-model cars as standard equipment, and municipal blankets of Wi-Fi connectivity make free Internet radio a serious threat. Still, I'm a fan of satellite radio and feel that XM's shares may have been overpriced a year ago but are a bargain right now.
You don't need to see the panic-stricken faces of folks denied concert tickets to see Hannah Montana, Van Halen, The Police, or Bruce Springsteen to know that live music is alive and well despite the iffy economy.
Live Nation is a juggernaut that's gradually becoming more than just a concert promoter. From bypassing IAC's
All five major analysts following the company expect it to finally turn a profit next year. At that point, the sky really can be the limit for the company that's redefining the vested relationship between a promoter and the artists it represents. I won't venture a guess as to what the hot 2008 shows will be, much less the surprise reunions that always seem to bolster the industry. I do know that Live Nation is the one thing playing the wrong industry the right way. 2008 should prove it.
So here are the leisure companies I'll be watching in 2008. Let's see if the market agrees in the new year.
IMAX has been recommended to Rule Breakers subscribers. Cedar Fair is an Income Investor newsletter selection. Too many newsletters, not enough time? Don't worry. Free 30-day trial subscriptions are available to take them all into 2008.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoys having fun with leisure stocks -- he owns shares in both Six Flags and Cedar Fair. He 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.