SEAS Stock: ‘Blackfish,’ Politics Could Weigh Down SeaWorld

On news of SeaWorld’s (SEAS) earnings report, investors’ reactions were varied. In today’s trading, SEAS stock dipped roughly 2.5% before slowly climbing back for a 2% gain as of this writing. Could it be that the controversy from CNN’s Blackfish, documentary — which alleged abusive practices with killer whales — is still a weighing on the stock?

SEAS-stock-sea-world-stock-blackfishPerhaps, but let’s first take a look at the quarter: Revenues came to $272 million and SEAS stock posted a net loss of 13 cents. This beat the Street’s earnings estimate by one cent and beat on revenues by about $1.6 million.

SEAS stock also provided light guidance for the rest of the year. For the full-year, the company pegged revenues at $1.49 billion to $1.52 billion. Yet analysts were expecting $1.53 billion. That wasn’t exactly a big miss, and it’s possible that management is low-balling the numbers.

Something that should help boost SEAS stock is the focus on expanding the company’s footprint. Back in May, SeaWorld launched Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, which is an animal habitat at the flagship Orlando Park. Then a month later, SeaWorld opened its 11th park, Aquatica, which is actually a companion to SeaWorld San Diego.

But SeaWorld is also trying to use a Disney (DIS) strategy to boost SEAS stock. The company is placing more of a focus on leveraging intellectual property and core brands. An example of this is the Sea Rescue television show, which is in its third season. In fact, SeaWorld recently debuted another show, Wildlife Docs, which has also gotten some traction.

So, what about Blackfish? It’s tough to get a sense of how the documentary has affected the company so far. In Q4, overall attendance fell by 1.4% but this could have been the result of higher prices. Besides, we won’t get a better sense of things until the summer quarter, which is the peak of the season. And yes, by that time the impact of Blackfish could fade away — at least for the public.

But the Blackfish documentary might only be the start of the troubles for SEAS stock. Politicians in New York and California are pushing to ban the captivity of killer whales. If successful, the legislation could be devastating to SeaWorld attendance. The killer whales are the main attraction, after all.

Unfortunately, predicting politics is tough. As a result, SEAS stock could continue to meander until the details around this policy shake up. In the meantime, there may be a floor on the valuation, given that SEAS stock posts a decent dividend yield of 2.4%.

It’s almost impossible to predict how outside factors will influence SeaWorld, so it’s probably best for investors to hold off on SEAS stock until we get more clarity on attendance and political threats.

Tom Taulli runs the InvestorPlace blog IPO Playbook. He is also the author of High-Profit IPO StrategiesAll About Commodities and All About Short Selling. Follow him on Twitter at @ttaulli. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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