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Do Carnival Stock Investors Know What They're Boarding?

By Rick Munarriz – Jul 13, 2020 at 12:28PM

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Even if the leading cruise line returns to peak 2019 form, it won't be anywhere close to that on a per-share basis.

One of this year's hardest-hit travel markets is the cruising industry, and top dog Carnival (CCL 6.62%) (CUK 6.21%) is taking on water like all of its smaller peers. The stock has tumbled 68% in 2020, but one Wall Street pro is warning that things may not get better anytime soon.

Chris Woronka at Deutsche Bank is sticking to his hold rating and a price target of $13. With Carnival shares moving higher late last week after the company posted a well-received financial update and general market buoyancy lifting equities in recent weeks, holding firm at $13 isn't a good thing. Carnival stock enters the new trading week 24% higher than Woronka's goal. He has an interesting perspective on the situation that investors and speculators with long positions on the stock may want to consider. 

An aerial view of Carnival's Costa Fortuna on the water

Image source: Carnival Corp.

Ports of call

Carnival was able to talk a good game late last week. It expects a couple of its ships under its AIDA brand to start sailing out of Germany next month. It's also taking a realistic approach when it comes to consumer demand. It's going to get rid of 13 of its older ships and delay the delivery of new vessels. 

Deutsche Bank's Woronka concedes that Carnival is taking important steps in getting back to business, as well as reducing its cash burn to give its margins a fighting chance to recover. Woronka also points out that the global headlines for potential COVID-19 vaccines and treatments are encouraging. The problem he sees -- for the stock -- is that there's too much optimism priced into the shares based on what Carnival has had to do earlier this year to stay afloat. 

Investors have applauded that Carnival has been able to raise more than $10 billion in financing since the pandemic shutdown of its sailings in March, but there's no such thing as a free lunch. There are bigger debt payments and more shares printed in building out Carnival's lifeboat. By 2023 -- the closest year with the best shot at providing some degree of normalcy for the industry -- Carnival will likely be paying $850 million more than it did last year in interest payments. It's also likely dealing with an 11% increase in its shares outstanding. The dagger that bulls need to consider here is that those two factors alone would shrink the $4.40 a share that Carnival reported in earnings for 2019 down to $2.88 a share.

In short, even if things were to get back to normal in three years, we would be looking at a very diluted and leveraged financial situation on a per-share basis. His price target of $13 suggests that the stock is reasonably priced at 11 times 2023's earnings, discounted back to today's opportunity.

Making a bullish argument for Carnival and the entire cruise line industry is typically based on pent-up demand and a return to 2019 form. With pandemic uncertainty only getting murkier and the global recession intensifying, it's a position worth challenging. As Woronka's math points out, Carnival can't return to its 2019 level of operations anytime soon.

Rick Munarriz 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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Stocks Mentioned

Carnival Corporation Stock Quote
Carnival Corporation
$9.83 (6.62%) $0.61
Carnival Corporation Stock Quote
Carnival Corporation
$8.55 (6.21%) $0.50

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