Vail Resorts (NYSE: MTN) stock has been on a strong run the past five years, helped by its own consolidation of mountain assets around North America. The 2016 acquisition of Whistler Blackcomb created a giant in winter sports and gave the company control of some of the best mountains in the U.S. and Canada.
A stronger economy has also helped push consumer spending on winter activities higher, which points to another good year for the company . But it may not mean the stock is a buy right now. Here's why.
All signs point to a big year
The fiscal first quarter for Vail Resorts points to a positive year for the company. Revenue per available room was up 8.5% in the first quarter to $87.38. Average daily rates were up 1.5% to $210.49. Season pass sales were also up 14% in units and 20% in dollars in the early season versus a year ago.
Guidance for the full year is for net income of $264 million to $300 million, up significantly from $210.6 million in fiscal 2017. Pricing power from owning most of the high-end ski resorts in the U.S. could help push earnings higher in the future as well, if demand stays strong.
Building the ski resort of the future
Vail isn't done investing in growth, either. As part of an improvement plan across the network of resorts, Vail Resorts plans to invest $150 million in capital improvements in fiscal 2018, which includes a new gondola in the heart of Whistler. Long-term, capital expenditures will be about $131 million per year, so this is a significant increase to boost customer interest in the near term.
Integrations of Whistler Blackcomb resorts are also nearly complete, highlighted by a larger network of resorts customers can visit with their season pass. For $859, customers can access 45 ski and snowboard destinations around the world. If you're a winter enthusiast, it's hard to beat that price. And Vail Resorts gets the guaranteed revenue that comes with season passes before the winter season really starts, reducing weather-related risk.
Is there value in Vail Resorts stock?
I like everything about Vail Resorts' operations. The problem with the stock is its value. Even at the high end of the earnings range, Vail Resorts is an expensive stock. The company's market cap right now is $8.5 billion, meaning shares trade at 28 times earnings. That's a steep price for a company that has limited growth options unless it continues raising prices, which may be difficult with a single-day ski pass already going for $164.
I like Vail Resorts' business long-term, but the price is too much for me to jump in right now. That said, I'm not bearish enough to give the stock a red thumb on my CAPS page, either. I'll just stay on the sidelines with this stock, for now.
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