Climb out of those lifeboats, Royal Caribbean (NYSE: RCL ) investors. Your ship isn't sinking.
The cruise ship giant delivered better than expected results this morning, as healthy passenger yields, a sequential dip in fuel prices, and lower non-fuel net cruise costs helped clear the way to smooth sailing on the way to the bottom line.
Earnings rose 4% to $1.92 a share for the company's seasonally strongest summer quarter, well ahead of the dip to $1.66 a share that Wall Street was expecting. Royal Caribbean did record a favorable legal settlement during the third quarter, but the cruise line would have still blown past analyst guesstimates. Revenue inched 5% higher to $2.1 billion.
A lot of moving parts go into every cruise company's quarterly results. Royal Caribbean paid 46% more for its fuel than it did a year ago, but that was actually less than the company had baked into its guidance. Plunging energy prices in recent months bode well for that material line item in the near term. Excluding fuel, the company posted a 2% dip in net cruise costs per available passenger cruise day over last year. The company continues to cut costs where possible.
The strengthening dollar is not Royal Caribbean's friend given the unflattering currency translations of money made overseas, but that's a small part of the bigger picture at Royal Caribbean.
The company is now looking to earn between $2.73 a share and $2.78 a share for all of 2008. With Royal Caribbean's price in the mid-teens, Mr. Market is out to lunch if it thinks that the company is worth just five times earnings.
Yes, bookings have been weak lately. The crummy economy is not going to do Carnival (NYSE: CCL ) (NYSE: CUK ) , NCL, and Disney (NYSE: DIS ) any favors here, either. Once onboard, passengers may be less likely to hand money over to Rule Breakers newsletter recommendation Steiner Leisure (Nasdaq: STNR ) , the company that runs most of Royal Caribbean's on-board spas.
However, investors may be better off riding the storm out in cruise industry stocks than in more conventional travel plays like hoteliers. Starwood (NYSE: HOT ) and Marriott (NYSE: MAR ) have posted share declines in their timeshare businesses this month, while the pure play cruising companies are offering a compelling vacation value without the real estate exposure.
It's hard not to like Royal Caribbean at today's prices, so be proud shareholders. You're not caught between a rockwall and a hard place.
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