SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE: SEAS) is having a whale of a year. Shares of the theme park operator are flirting with fresh four-year highs on Tuesday, soaring near their highest levels since early 2014, after the company announced encouraging revenue and attendance trends for the recently concluded third quarter.
Turnstile clicks increased 10% during the seasonally potent third quarter, with total revenue rising by 9%. The results are an improvement over SeaWorld's already impressive first half of 2018 with attendance and revenue climbing 8% and 8.7%, respectively. SeaWorld is pre-announcing these metrics ahead of a possible debt-refinancing transaction, but it's a perfect humblebrag. SeaWorld stock has already more than doubled this year.
When you fish upon a star
SeaWorld's strong showing during the summer quarter -- when amusement parks across the country fill up with teens and young families making the most of their school breaks -- is great but not unexpected news. SeaWorld had Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida deal temporary disruptions at some of its biggest attractions a year earlier. SeaWorld's original park in San Diego also had a rough quarter.
Revenue and attendance slipped 10% and 9%, respectively, last year. With the new Electric Eel roller coaster breathing new life into SeaWorld San Diego, a lack of devastating windstorms in Texas or Florida, and favorable consumer sentiment that's been percolating all year, how was this not going to be a blowout quarter? We still don't know how the bottom line played out, but between ongoing cost improvements and the scalable nature of this business with high fixed costs, it won't be a shock if healthy improvement on the top line results in an even bigger pop in profitability.
It's not just investors the market that is catching on to this turnaround. Moody's Investors Service -- ahead of the potential debt refinancing event -- is boosting its outlook on SeaWorld from negative to stable. It's a welcome tip of the hat from the credit rating agency, even as it kept its credit rating on SeaWorld's existing debt intact. This would seem to translate into an opportunity to refinance on more attractive terms given SeaWorld's financial buoyancy, though rising interest rates and a soaring stock price may lead some to wonder if a secondary stock offering wouldn't be the better course -- the company would shore up its balance sheet while cashing in on one of this year's hottest stocks.
SeaWorld is back. Strong third-quarter attendance and revenue trends sent the shares higher at Tuesday's open, but you just haven't been paying attention if you consider the news an actual surprise.
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