Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Carnival Tries to Navigate Rough Seas

By Rick Munarriz – Dec 21, 2018 at 12:46PM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

The world's largest cruise ship operator hits two-year lows after a mixed fiscal fourth quarter and problematic first-quarter guidance.

The waters continue to be chilly for Carnival (CCL 0.11%) (CUK) investors. Shares of the world's leading cruise line operator hit two-year lows after posting mixed financial results on Thursday morning. The report also sent shares of smaller rivals lower. 

Revenue rose 4.3% to $4.456 billion during the seasonally sleepy fiscal fourth quarter. After being spoiled by back-to-back periods of double-digit percentage growth to kick off the fiscal year, decelerating growth has seen revenue upticks slow to 5.8% in the third quarter and 4.3% this time around. To be fair, net cruise revenue on a constant currency basis actually accelerated to 6.1%. 

Pacific Jewel cruise ship in Australia.


All aboard

Gross revenue yields -- a vital metric for the cruise industry that measures revenue per available lower berth day -- rose 1.9% for the fiscal fourth quarter. That figure balloons up to 3.7% when you back out any currency fluctuations, and that's considerably better than the 1.5% to 2.5% uptick on that basis that it was targeting back in late September. Carnival has historically been conservative with that metric, and once again, it set the bar low enough for it to be easily cleared. 

Adjusted net income -- the best measuring stick to assess bottom-line performance as it backs out lumpy unrealized gains and losses on fuel derivatives and other net charges -- rose 8.8% to $492 million, or $0.70 a share. Gross cruise costs excluding the volatile variable of fuel per available lower berth day declined 0.5%, a welcome sight at first glance, but less than the 1% to 2% year-over-year dip that Carnival was publicly projecting three months ago.

The reasonably strong showing looking back begins to hit choppy waters when we check into Carnival's early read on the current quarter. Carnival sees net revenue yields declining 3% in the fiscal first quarter, or flat on a constant currency basis. It also sees net cruise costs excluding fuel rising during the period, a bad combination that leaves the world's largest cruise player targeting adjusted earnings per share of $0.40 to $0.44. It clocked in at $0.52 per share a year earlier. 

The initiated guidance for all of fiscal 2019 is better. It sees net revenue yields up 1% on a constant currency basis, and when you consider the capacity growth as new ships come online, Carnival is eyeing net cruise revenues to rise 5.5% on that basis. It sees adjusted earnings per share coming in between $4.50 and $4.80, up nicely from the $4.26 it just rang up for fiscal 2018. 

Carnival points out that advance bookings for the full year are "considerably ahead" of the pace it was at a year earlier on similar pricing. It points out that the uptick in demand is resulting in less inventory remaining for the balance of fiscal 2019 despite the slightly higher capacity. The full-year outlook is encouraging, but investors are naturally going to put more weight on the current quarter, where the guidance was disappointing, than the rosier perspective behind the more uncertain subsequent quarters.

The stock being at two-year lows does push the yield higher. Carnival's $1.4 billion in annual payouts is pushing its current yield north of 4%. Carnival also continues to return money to its shareholders through buybacks, but with the stock at its lowest level since late 2016, one can argue that it hasn't been the smartest use of its money. Carnival is doing a good job of attracting passengers to its growing fleet, and now it needs to woo investors. 

Rick Munarriz has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Carnival. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.