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Carnival Stock: Buy, Sell, or Hold?

By Daniel B. Kline – Apr 28, 2020 at 8:03AM

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The cruise line has lean prospects in the near term.

Will the cruise industry ever fully recover? That's a fair question to ask, but it's also one colored by the current situation where nothing feels normal.

The reality is that someday even COVID-19 will pass. There will be treatments and a vaccine. People will go back to normal even if that seems impossible at the moment.

Carnival's (CCL -1.82%) cruise line business has been hurt by coronavirus as badly as any company. Its operations have stopped and revenue has dried to a trickle while its expenses remain at about $1 billion a month. That's a daunting number -- especially since nobody knows when cruises will resume -- but the company has made some major moves to ensure it makes it out the other side.

The Carnival Sunshine.

Carnival hopes to return some ships into operation in late June. Image source: Carnival.

What do Carnival's finances look like?

Carnival has secured enough capital to operate even if cruising does not resume in 2020. That's not a likely scenario, but it's one that makes sense for the company to plan for.

The cruise line has fully drawn down its credit line. It has also raised $4 billion by selling first-priority senior secured notes at 11.5% interest due in 2023. That's a very high price to pay for money, but Carnival had no choice but to take the cash at those exorbitant prices.

Carnival had a complicated first quarter. It reported a loss of $781 million, down from a $336 million profit during the same quarter in the previous year. That number, however, is deceptive given that the company took $932 million in goodwill and ship impairment charges.

The cruise line also reported "adjusted net income of $150 million, or $0.22 adjusted EPS, compared to adjusted net income of $338 million, or $0.49 adjusted EPS, for the first quarter of 2019."

These numbers were also impacted by the coronavirus. The company was only hurt by the pandemic for part of the quarter, but the effect was meaningful:

The impact of COVID-19 on the first quarter 2020 net loss is approximately $0.23 per share, which includes canceled voyages and other voyage disruptions, and excludes the impairment charges described above. Other previously disclosed voyage disruptions, noted during the Corporation's December earnings conference call, also impacted first quarter 2020 results by approximately $0.12 per share.

All of this creates a complicated financial picture. If, however, you strip out all one-time charges and just look at operations, pre-coronavirus Carnival made money. It may take months -- maybe even a year or more -- for the company to return to normal operations, however.

It's going to take a while to convince people to get back on cruise ships. Some customers will wait until a vaccine exists, while others won't be allowed to sail at all due to age or health concerns. It's possible ships will sail with limited capacities, and some itineraries (including Alaska cruises) may not return until 2021.

Should I buy, sell, or hold Carnival stock?

If you understand the risk, it makes sense to take a small position in Carnival stock. This isn't a short-term move, though -- if you buy shares in a cruise line, you have to understand that a Chapter 11 bankruptcy remains a possibility.

Carnival has enough money to survive an extended closure. The problem is that exactly how long the company will remain docked remains unknown. If cruising resumes this summer or even in the fall, that gives the company time to rebuild its business and go back to making a profit.

That scenario is likely, but it's not guaranteed. There's major upside over the next decade if you buy and hold Carnival stock. You just have to understand that the situation could get worse and you may end up losing your investment in the unlikely, but possible, event of a bankruptcy.

Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Carnival. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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