Is Ardent Leisure Group a buy at the current share price?

In November last year, I wrote that entertainment, leisure and theme park operator Ardent Leisure Group (ASX: AAD) was a solid buy given its fluctuation in share price following a 20% fall.

At the time, Ardent’s shares traded at $2.46 on a cum-distribution basis. Since my article in November, Ardent’s shares have plummeted a further 15% (13% on an ex-distribution basis) under performing the S&P/ASX 200 Index (ASX: XJO) which has fallen approximately 5% over the corresponding period.

Ardent has also under performed rival Village Roadshow Ltd (ASX: VRL) which has suffered a fall of 10% over the same time frame.

Accordingly, Ardent’s under performance raises the question — is it still a buy?

Market volatility

Global markets are rife with volatility amidst concerns over Chinese growth prospects and the health of the global economy. The result is risk-off behaviour with many world markets shedding over 10% since the start of 2016.

Inevitably, stocks in all sectors have been hit hard with household names such as Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ASX: ANZ) and BHP Billiton Ltd (ASX: BHP) trading near 52-week lows.

Admittedly, the sell-off in certain stocks like BHP can be rationalised due to the uncertainty lingering over the health of its industry (which casts a shadow on its future). However, when a company with strong fundamentals and a solid history sells off, one must wonder whether it is an over-reaction to the “market noise”.

I, for one, think this might be the case with Ardent Leisure, making it a buy at current prices.

Strong tailwinds

As Ardent is in the business of providing entertainment, it relies heavily on tourism, particularly inbound into Australia. In 2015, 65% of its revenue came from Australian operations (with 25% of its earnings coming from its portfolio of theme park assets alone). The result was a strong 2016 first quarter, with earnings coming in 19% ahead of prior corresponding period figures.

With Australia predicted to make tourism its largest export over the next decade, favourable economics should provide a boost to earnings. The fall in the Australian dollar should translate to increased inbound tourism (as Australia becomes a cheaper destination, relative to other countries), as well as translational gains from Ardent’s U.S. business (which is also growing strongly). As such, Ardent should be in for another strong year operationally, despite the ongoing market volatility.

Foolish takeaway

Stocks will rise and fall daily, often becoming disconnected with their fundamentals. In Ardent Leisure’s case, I believe this is exactly what has occurred given the current slump in share price. Ardent appears to be a victim of indiscriminate selling with its share price severely under performing the ASX 200 Index.

Accordingly, I believe its strong start to 2016 makes it under-priced today. With the group standing to benefit from favourable macroeconomic tailwinds in 2016, I believe the current under performance presents a solid buying opportunity for a top quality company.

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Motley Fool contributor Rachit Dudhwala has no position in any stocks mentioned. Unless otherwise noted, the author does not have a position in any stocks mentioned by the author in the comments below. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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