The news remains bleak for Carnival (NYSE:CCL). While the company intends to resume limited operations in August, whether that actually happens remains in doubt. And sailing eight ships from three ports will do little to reverse the overall fortunes of a business that has been shut down since March.
Carnival has been forced to borrow billions of dollars under unfavorable terms, and it has no clear date for the resumption of normal operations. The company, like its chief rivals Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, has been working on plans for expanded passenger screening, added cleaning, and other improved safety methods, but without a vaccine for COVID-19, cruising at best looks very different and at worst remains impossible.
Is it all bad news for Carnival?
August bookings -- even though those cruises may not happen -- are up 200% over the same period last year. That's a positive sign even when you factor in that the company has dropped prices.
Lower prices will likely entice younger customers -- a demographic that Carnival's signature line of ships has been specifically designed to serve -- to go on a cruise. Even if many (or all) August cruises don't happen, the people who booked them will have the option to take credit for a future cruise (in many cases a 125% credit), and that should land the cruise line an opportunity to at some point win over new customers.
The short term remains very bleak for Carnival and the other major cruise lines. If you want to look for a silver lining, however, it's that consumers want to cruise. The hunger for travel remains, and at least some consumers aren't afraid to get back on a cruise ship.
Until that can happen, Carnival has taken broad steps to remain solvent. That includes the aforementioned borrowing along with other moves that helped it add $6.4 billion in liquidity while it has also been doing everything it can to cut expenses. That has included delaying capital projects, furloughing employees, and laying off others.
"Taking these extremely difficult employee actions involving our highly dedicated workforce is a very tough thing to do. Unfortunately, it's necessary, given the current low level of guest operations, and to further endure this pause," said Carnival CEO Arnold Donald in a press release.
Is now the time to buy Carnival stock?
Carnival still faces very rough seas, and those could still sink the company. It still needs approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. to begin sailing out of U.S. ports again, and it also needs ports around the world to welcome its ships.
People want to cruise, but at the moment they can't. That's a major hurdle for a company that makes its money selling cruises. As a potential investor, you should also be concerned that while younger people may be interested in cruising, older customers -- the bread and butter of the industry -- may remain afraid of returning to the seas until a vaccine for COVID-19 is widely available.
Carnival has given itself something of a financial runway, and its stock closed June 2 at $16.87 a share, well below its 52-week high of $53.86. That's a bargain if you believe the company can return to normal operations before it runs out of money.
It's possible that this will happen, and this was a very profitable company before the pandemic hit. Getting back to that is possible, but it's by no means guaranteed.
Investing in Carnival (or any cruise line stock) comes with a risk of bankruptcy and a long road digging out of debt even if that fate can be avoided. That's a major risk, but if you're willing to accept that your shares could go to zero, the upside makes this a reasonable investment as a small part of your portfolio.