Bodies in Copenhagen…

May 7, 2008

Last week, I was in Copenhagen and it was hard to miss the banners for Bodies The Exhibition attached to light posts around the city, especially near Tivoli, a major tourist attraction. I didn’t go to the exhibit — there’s so many other more interesting things to do in Copenhagen than look at dead bodies, no matter how they’re sliced and diced. Even the Little Mermaid, which is very little, is more interesting.

But according to the fourth quarter and year-end earnings that Premier Exhibitions (PRXI), which is putting on the Bodies exhibit, reported late yesterday, lots of other people are. The big headline on the release touts that “annual revenue is up 104% and annual net income is up 66%.” So why, then, given that rosy headline, is the stock down over 8% this morning? It’s only after you start reading the release a bit more that you realize both net income and earnings per share for the fourth quarter were both down sharply and missed even the lower guidance that the company gave back on Jan. 9.

According to the press release, the Copenhagen Bodies exhibit is one of 12 currently being run by the company. Another five are set to open in the next 30 days, presumably timed for the end of the school year when parents are looking around for things to do. But none of the Danish parents or grandparents I spoke to — admittedly a small sample of a dozen in a country of 5 million — seemed to be planning a visit.

There’s also the question of exactly where those bodies are coming from — something that has dogged the company for some time and which we last footnoted in February, after a segment ran on the ABC News show, 20/20. With 17 different exhibits and let’s say 15 bodies at each (based on my memory of a visit to one in San Francisco about 3 years ago), that’s a lot of bodies to move around.

Perhaps that’s why yesterday’s release ends with a note about not giving guidance for 2009, wrapped in a veneer of focusing on growing the company and increasing shareholder value.

Finally, a note of thanks to PH and Wendy for pitching in while I was off showing my mom Copenhagen to celebrate her birthday. I lived there as a student back in college and it was great to be back and visit with my Danish family again. Every now and then, you just need to take a break from SEC filings, no matter how interesting they are.

UPDATE 5/8: Late Wednesday, Premier filed this 10K. Among the more interesting tidbits was this new disclosure that legislators in three different states — California, New York and Pennsylvania — “have proposed legislation that could require us to follow special requirements in connection with our presentation of human anatomy exhibitions in such states”. Because the legislation hasn’t passed and because Premier’s disclosure is somewhat vague, it’s hard to figure out what (if any) impact this might eventually have. A quick search of California’s legislative database brought me to this bill, which passed the Assembly back in January, and has been amended by the Senate, but does not appear to have passed there. In New York state, the Assembly bill is here and the Senate bill is here, but neither appear to have passed. Ditto for the Pennsylvania legislation, which appears to have only been introduced in the Senate. Yesterday’s filing hints at other states introducing similar legislation as well, so this is clearly something to watch more closely.

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