What happened

Cruise industry stocks had another rough day. In Wednesday trading, shares of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NYSE:NCLH) closed 3% lower, Carnival Corporation (NYSE:CCL) dropped 3.1%, and Royal Caribbean (NYSE:RCL) -- the one cruise line that performed best yesterday -- did worst of all today, sinking 3.9%.

Indeed, over the course of the day, Royal Caribbean was the consistent underperformer, even falling more than 5% at one point.

Cartoon character sliding down a red arrow

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

So what's ailing the cruise industry this time? To put it simply: cash flow.

Tallying up the latest financial results posted by all three of the major publicly traded cruise lines this morning, industry information site CruiseIndustryNews.com (CIN) broke down the current rates of "cash burn" -- negative free cash flow -- for each stock. Here's how much they're burning at last count:

  • Carnival Corporation, the biggest cruise company, is burning the most -- $530 million per month.
  • Royal Caribbean is in second place in both fleet size and cash burn: about $270 million per month.
  • And bringing up the rear, Norwegian Cruise Line is burning $175 million per month.

Now what

CIN points out that Carnival's situation isn't quite as bad as it looks. Carnival may be burning the most cash, but this is primarily because it operates the most ships. In fact, the smaller Norwegian Cruise Line, observes the website, is actually spending the most money per ship while those ships are laid up in port.

Still, while there are minor variations between the companies, the overarching fact is this: Across the industry, these three companies alone are burning through nearly $1 billion a month in cash right now, with no revenue to offset their costs. And they're going to have to keep on burning that cash for months, until they finally get permission from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to resume carrying passengers to sea.

This, in a nutshell, is why investors are unhappy with cruise stocks today.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.