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Published: Saturday, 11/8/2008

Cedar Fair's attendance high

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

SANDUSKY - Despite high pump prices and a roller coaster stock market, attendance was strong this year at amusement parks operated by the parent of Cedar Point.

But officials of Cedar Fair LP acknowledged yesterday that there are signs that customers are watching their pennies more closely.

The firm made $91.6 million, or $1.65 a share, in the June to September period, up from $54.1 million, or 98 cents a share, at the same time last year. That represented a 70 percent increase in earnings.

Still, the parent of Cedar Point and 10 other amusement parks nationwide, missed analysts' forecasts of $2.33 a share, according to information gathered by Thomson Reuters.

"Overall we're pleased by our parks' ability to improve results in such a challenging environment," Dick Kinzel, chairman and chief executive officer, said yesterday in a conference call with investors and financial analysts.

Comparisons to last year are slightly skewed because the firm's 2007 report for the third-quarter - its busiest period - covered 14 weeks compared to 13 weeks this year, officials said.

That helped to explain a quarterly drop in sales from $540 million to $568 million, company officials added.

Still, Cedar Fair acknowledged that it saw a slight decline in sales of hot dogs, cotton candy, souvenirs, and similar items. So-called "in-park expenditures" dropped slightly less than 1 percent in the third quarter to an average of $40.18 a customer.

The trend was especially pronounced in the southern United States, partly because of increased sales of season passes, which tend to appeal to budget-conscious families, officials said.

Cedar Fair doesn't release attendance figures for individual parks. But, company-wide through Nov. 2, attendance was 22.1 million, which was 607,000 higher than last year.

The biggest gains came at Canada's Wonderland in Toronto and other parks in the firm's northern region, which includes Cedar Point.

Factors included favorable weather in the northern United States, the CEO said.

Shares of Cedar Fair, which trade on the New York Stock Exchange as FUN, fell 60 cents, or 3 percent, to $17.52.

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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