The best time to buy a promising stock is before it gets onto most investors' radar screens. Admittedly, many shareholders over the years have already discovered Vail Resorts (NYSE: MTN), the operator of a network of ski resort destinations that spans the globe. Yet coming out of a fairly typical summer slump, Vail is on course to have what could potentially be its strongest season ever -- and it's just getting started.
Vail Resorts has had to deal with plenty of challenges in recent years. Winter weather hasn't always cooperated at many of its locations, including the key ski areas near Lake Tahoe and in Colorado and Utah. A downturn in luxury pursuits has created headwinds for some of its higher-profile locations. At the same time, the ski resort operator's ambitious acquisition strategy has required plenty of attention from management to sustain quality and integrate new properties into the resort network. Yet all that work's starting to pay off. Here's what makes now a great time to look at Vail Resorts.
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1. Summer losses paint a misleading picture
The biggest reason why Vail Resorts is often a smart buy this time of year has to do with the seasonal nature of its business. Although Vail does have the Perisher resort property in Australia, where winter runs from June to September, the vast majority of its properties are in North America. As a result, Vail's financial results during the summer and early fall are usually ugly. For instance, during the fiscal fourth quarter that ended on July 31, Vail suffered a net loss of more than $2 per share -- and those investors who follow the stock year-round were actually happy with that, having expected worse.
Yet the smarter way to look at Vail is from a full-year perspective, and even going through tough conditions, Vail's fiscal 2018 went well. Skier visits were higher by 2.5% compared to 2017, and lift revenue rose by almost 8%. Despite the fact that many of Vail's U.S. properties suffered from poor ski conditions, its Whistler Blackcomb resort in Canada's British Columbia put in solid performance that helped lift the entire company's numbers higher.
2. Acquisitions are making Vail's value proposition even better
Vail Resorts has built up an impressive network of locations, and one of the ways it sells season passes to its customers is by offering access to all of its resorts. The company's premium Epic Pass offers unlimited, unrestricted skiing and riding at top resorts, along with access to 65 resort locations across the globe. Other passes give customers the ability to tailor their experiences to meet their needs, but most are designed to let them take advantage of the many locations in the Vail network.
Vail continues to work hard to expand the number of resorts it offers. The acquisition of the Stowe resort in Vermont last year has already started to show up in Vail's numbers, and more recently, the resort operator added Stevens Pass in the Northern Cascades of Washington, Okemo Mountain in Vermont, Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire, and Crested Butte in Colorado. By bulking up its exposure to resorts in the eastern half of the country, Vail Resorts hopes to entice more skiers and snowboarders to make cross-country treks to experience the entire breadth of all of the company's resorts.
3. A great early start to winter
Most importantly, Vail's having a great start to the 2018-19 season, and things are only just getting started. On Nov. 26, the company reported that its flagship Vail Mountain had more than 3,300 acres of terrain open for skiing and snowboarding, the most of any resort in North America. Key locations like Park City, Kirkwood, Crested Butte, and Mount Sunapee are already open thanks to excellent snow conditions, and weather forecasts remain positive that those conditions will remain favorable.
Vail is set to report its fiscal first-quarter results on Dec. 7, but those numbers will only reflect operations through Oct. 31. However, you can count on the press release giving upbeat news about how the beginning of the season has gone. Although smart investors are already baking a good winter into their expectations, some will inevitably be slow to do so, and only Vail's own executives talking up its prospects will get their attention.
Vail Resorts has worked hard to put together some of the most renowned ski and snow sports resorts in the world. Winter sports enthusiasts are responding favorably to those efforts, and Vail Resorts investors are also poised to benefit from the success that the company has had in delivering the experiences its customers want to have.
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