The operating season has come and gone for regional amusement park operator Six Flags
The similarities pretty much end there, though. Cedar Fair has been consistently profitable, while Six Flags is reporting a loss so far this year. All that's left is the formality of going through a meaningless fourth quarter for Six Flags to close out another year in the red.
So why even talk about Six Flags as a potential investment? Well, I've got six reasons -- one for each flag -- why shares of the thrill merchant may see better days come 2005.
This is a stock that has exclusively traded in the single digits over the past two years. However, the last two times that the stock has traded down in the $5 range it has managed to rally back into the high single digits.
The company's debt has always been a sore point with the company. While selling assets may not be the ideal way to pay down debt, the company has been able to trim away its long-term debt from $2.4 billion to $2.1 billion so far this year. It is also entering the new year with relaxed financial covenants that were secured from its creditors.
In the park industry you have to spend money to make money. Four years ago Six Flags went through $334.2 million in capital expenditures. Its cash-strapped ways found its capital program dwindling to $130 million in 2003 and a pitiful $75 million this year. While the fiscally thrifty may applaud the penny pinching, a look at the company's perpetual drop in turnstile clicks paints the grim reality that investments need to be made. That's why I applaud the fact that Six Flags is reversing course by earmarking $130 million to $135 million in spending this year.
It's not merely spending money, it's investing it: A new water park in Chicago. The world's tallest and fastest roller coaster in New Jersey. These are sound projects that should grow attendance for the company in 2005.
The Mr. Six ads were brilliant. It was the first time since 1997 that the company launched a national marketing campaign and it hit it out of the, ahem, park. It may not seem that way given that revenues fell by 2.3% to $928.6 million through the first nine months of 2004, yet I think it would have been much worse if not for that round of crafty advertising. The focus in 2004 was on customer service. Another year of necessary improvement on that front, along with new attractions at most of its parks, will help plenty as Mr. Six returns to pitch next season.
Back in September I wrote about how Six Flags could save itself. I won't repeat the reasons here when a simple link will do. But with results-driven investors like Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder and Microsoft
So don't wave that white flag in surrender. Tuck it in your pocket as a handkerchief so you can loan it out to the teary-eyed investor who missed out on buying into Six Flags while it was still unloved.
Are you brave enough to give Kingda Ka -- the company's new record-breaking coaster -- a shot next year? What is the most terrifying coaster that you have ever ridden? Do you prefer wood, steel, or the bench by the exit? All this and more -- in the Roller Coaster Loving Fools discussion board. Only on Fool.com.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz did manage to go on some fascinating coasters this summer -- including Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point in Ohio and X at Six Flags Magic Mountain in California. He owns units in Cedar Fair.