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Just when it seemed as if Carnival (NYSE: CCL ) was starting to recover from a string of embarrassing and occasionally catastrophic sailings, the cruise ship operator is in hot water again.
A pair of Australian passengers reportedly fell overboard while on the Carnival Spirit last night as the ship sailed to Sydney. They have yet to be found.
Carnival stock can't seem to catch a break these days. At a time when consumer-facing companies are hitting fresh highs, shares of the leading cruise ship operator are trading in the middle of its 52-week range.
Carnival's competition is holding up considerably better.
- Norwegian Cruise Line (NASDAQ: NCLH ) went public in January, hitting an all-time high earlier this week.
- Royal Caribbean (NYSE: RCL ) is trading close to its January highs.
- Disney (NYSE: DIS ) , the family entertainment giant that has expanded its fleet to four ships in recent years, logged a new all-time high after posting strong financial results this week.
- Even Steiner Leisure (UNKNOWN: STNR.DL ) -- the spa operator with a presence on 156 ships -- is trading within a masseuse's striking distance of a new 52-week high.
A lack of growth is an issue for Carnival stock. Royal Caribbean and Steiner are expected to grow their revenue at a 5% clip this year, and RCL is coasting along at a projected 11% clip. Carnival is only projected to grow its top line by 3%.
Analysts have been scaling back their forecasts on Carnival, fearing that negative sentiment after mishaps on several ships earlier this year are suppressing bookings for future sailings.
Three months ago, just before the Carnival Triumph was notoriously disabled in a sailing that stranded passengers for five days in occasionally deplorable conditions, Wall Street was targeting a profit of $2.42 a share out of Carnival this year. Now that estimate is all the way down to $1.97 a share.
Disney and NCL have seen their targets raised in that time, and the projection adjustments at Royal Caribbean and Steiner have been only taken down marginally.
Bulls will argue that -- for once -- there is little that Carnival could've done to prevent this mishap. Passengers fall off cruise ships. This isn't likely to be a servicing issue. However, it still makes the Carnival cruising experience look bad at a time when Carnival stock isn't going along for the ride with its peers.