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Ups and Downs at Six Flags - Motley Fool - 8/3/2006

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  • Ups and Downs at Six Flags - Motley Fool - 8/3/2006

    A good day at an amusement park is filled with a fair share of highs and lows. Why should a regional operator's financial report be any different?

    Six Flags
    (NYSE: SIX - News) closed out a challenging early-summer season with a wider-than-expected loss on essentially flat revenue growth of $356.1 million.

    There's a lot more to the top-line flatness than meets the eye, though. The company suffered a 14% decline in attendance, but helped offset that with a 14% spike in per capita spending. The trend continued into the current quarter, with double-digit gains in per capita spending in July on a 13% dip in turnstile clicks.

    The report comes just days after rival Cedar Fair (NYSE: FUN - News) also failed to live up to Wall Street expectations, despite taking a different stance than Six Flags. It lowered admission prices, but still didn't generate the desired attendance gains.

    Investors need to be realistic here. Six Flags' CEO Mark Shapiro is on the right path. He didn't have the luxury of an entire offseason to lay out his plan of providing cleaner, more family-friendly experiences, but the early indications are that those who are showing up at Six Flags are mostly having a good time.

    Exit surveys are clocking in at five-year highs in many key categories, and some of the findings are certainly Plan-A-affirming. Guests who saw a show or interacted with a character are spending 48% more than the average guest. Those who agree that the park is cleaner and feels safer this year are spending 20% more.

    The plan is a sound one. It just needs time, and now Six Flags has that luxury. The company's creditors are relaxing debt covenants that were being violated during the chain's makeover. That patience will be tested if Shapiro's changes don't restore the company to financial stability come next season. That's when Plan B would rear its ugly head. And that's one thrill ride no one wants to see.

    Cedar Fair is one of the many income-producing companies in the Income Investor stock research service.
    Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoys taking his family on coaster treks over the summer. He did his part by heading over to Six Flags Great Adventure and Six Flags Great Escape two months ago. He owns units in Cedar Fair. The Fool has a disclosure policy. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

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