Earnings, Titanic Deal Please Premier Ex Investors

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In value land, it sometimes takes a great deal longer for a situation to play out than you had originally expected. While this can be frustrating at times, the rewards of patience can be great. Getting there, however, is at times frustrating.

Patience is a virtue in value investing, but you also have to know when to throw in the towel; to know when to admit that your investment thesis was incorrect. There have been times when I've waited too long for a story to play out; there have been times when I've given up too early. You try and learn from these mistakes, and move on.

At times, Premier Exhibitions ( PRXI), which owns thousands of artifacts salvaged from the Titanic wreck site, has been in the news over the past several months as the company has sought a buyer for this massive collection.

The company, whose primary business is traveling exhibitions (such as "Bodies . . . The Exhibition"), had endured many years in the courtroom in order to gain title to the Titanic artifacts. After those hurdles were ultimately crossed in August of 2011, Premier announced that it would sell its collection of more than 5,000 Titanic relics, appraised at $189 million in 2007, to the highest bidder.

Due to the nature of this collection and the historical significance, the courts did put stipulations on the sale. For one, the entire collection had to be sold together, and the court had to approve the winning bidder. The announcement of the winning bid was to have been made on April 15, 2012, the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster.

With the appraisal of the collection much higher than the current market cap, Premier shares more than doubled between the announcement of the auction in December and late March. Part of those gains, however, were given back when April 15 came and went, and there was no deal. Premier announced that it would take more time to close a sale.

Of course, this led to speculation that there were no bidders, or that bids were well below expectations. The company would not comment either, and it appeared as though the whole setup; an auction on the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking, had turned into a major blunder.

Finally, Monday, six months after a winning bidder was to have been announced, Premier announced that it has signed a non-binding letter of intent to sell the RMS Titanic business for $189 million. This sent shares of Premier, whose market cap was $114 million at the end of regular trading Monday, up more than 20% in after-hours trading.

While this is far from a done deal, there was other news Monday that sent Premier shares higher during regular trading, prior to the Titanic artifact announcement. Premier announced a 63% increase in revenue for the second quarter, and net income of $2.76 million, or 6 cents per share.

This was unexpected, from a company that had struggled to put up decent numbers for several years. At one time, Premier was considered a growth name, and shares traded as high as $18 back in 2007, on the strength of the "Bodies . . . The Exhibition" brand. But controversy over that exhibition, leveled by a 20/20 investigation of the company, and the subsequent recession, sent shares below $1 by early 2009.

The recent "discovery" of Premier by some value investors was all about the potential value of the Titanic assets, and not a re-birth of the exhibition business. Monday's announcement breathed life into the notion that shareholders may finally realize value not only from the sale of the Titanic artifacts, but perhaps also from the exhibition business.

I almost threw in the towel on this story several times. While it's not over yet, I am buckling up for another roller coaster ride.

At the time of publication, the author was long PRXI.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Jonathan Heller, CFA, is president of KEJ Financial Advisors, his fee-only financial planning company. Jon spent 17 years at Bloomberg Financial Markets in various roles, from 1989 until 2005. He ran Bloomberg's Equity Fundamental Research Department from 1994 until 1998, when he assumed responsibility for Bloomberg's Equity Data Research Department. In 2001, he joined Bloomberg's Publishing group as senior markets editor and writer for Bloomberg Personal Finance Magazine, and an associate editor and contributor for Bloomberg Markets Magazine. In 2005, he joined SEI Investments as director of investment communications within SEI's Investment Management Unit.

Jon is also the founder of the Cheap Stocks Web site, a site dedicated to deep-value investing. He has an undergraduate degree from Grove City College and an MBA from Rider University, where he has also served on the adjunct faculty; he is also a CFA charter holder.

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