NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Shares of theme park operator SeaWorld (SEAS) climbed in early trading, but have since given up their gains, following the departure of the company's CEO and president, Jim Atchison. Research firm FBR Capital suggested that the company could be split into two parts. According to the firm, SeaWorld's stock could eventually be worth about double its present value if the company does decide to pursue a break-up.
WHAT'S NEW: After SeaWorld announced last night that its current CEO would step down from the position as of January 15 and be replaced on an interim basis by its chairman, FBR Capital analyst Barton Crockett wrote that a split up of the company "looks compelling." Specifically, SeaWorld could split its SeaWorld parks off from the other parks it owns, including Busch Gardens and Sesame Place, the analyst stated. In such a scenario, the other parks could be seen as an eventual takeover target for theme park operators Six Flags (SIX) and Cedar Fair (FUN) , although an acquisition would not take place for two years due to tax issues, Crockett stated. Following a split, truncated SeaWorld should be valued at $4 per share, while the other parks could trade at $12 per share, the analyst stated. However, the spun off SeaWorld shares could eventually rebound to $17 if its initiatives to revitalize its weak attendance bear fruit or if it turns itself into a REIT, Crockett stated. Under the scenario outlined by Crockett, SeaWorld's stock, currently trading at about $16.60, could be worth $29. Additionally, split off SeaWorld could be taken private a few years later at a 30% premium, Crockett believes. While the analyst does not think the board wants to split the company, he says that the CEO vacancy could spark greater interest in the idea among investors, or CEO candidates could embrace the concept. Crockett kept a $20 price target and Outperform rating on SeaWorld.
WHAT'S NOTABLE: SeaWorld's CEO change is likely to be viewed positively by investors, given the challenges faced by the company, Wells Fargo analyst Timothy Conder wrote in his own note to investors today. However, the analyst thinks the company lacks fundamental catalysts through the first half of next year and is facing difficult comparisons. He kept a Market Perform rating on the shares.
PRICE ACTION: In early trading, SeaWorld fell 4c, or 0.25%, to $16.06.
Reporting by Larry Ramer.