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Why Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and AMC Entertainment Bounced Back Today

By Billy Duberstein – Dec 6, 2021 at 1:15PM

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On Sunday, Dr. Fauci gave a guardedly hopeful update on the omicron variant, and investors in travel and leisure stocks latched onto that hope.

What happened

Shares of Carnival (CCL 6.00%), Royal Caribbean (RCL 3.69%), and AMC Entertainment (AMC -2.91%) were all up strongly in early trading Monday. At their morning highs, Carnival was up 10.4%, Royal Caribbean was up 8.2%, and AMC put in a respectable 5% gain. However, as of midday, AMC's price had fallen back to around breakeven.

Of course, all three stocks are trading far below where they were before the omicron variant of COVID-19 was discovered in South Africa during Thanksgiving week. Yet in the wake of some potentially good news about omicron that came out over the weekend, all three oversold stocks bounced back sharply.

A young woman looks out off the side  of  a cruise ship deck.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

On Sunday talk shows, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci gave an update on what officials know about omicron, which has been found in 16 U.S. states already.

While it's possible the new variant may be more transmissible than the delta variant and may have a better ability to evade the currently available COVID-19 vaccines, it does appear from the initial data that omicron causes less severe cases of the disease. As Dr. Fauci said:

Though it's too early to really make any definitive statements about it, thus far, it does not look like there's a great degree of severity to it. But we've really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe or really doesn't really cause any severe illness comparable to Delta. ... But thus far the signals are have been encouraging regarding the severity.

Anything that may help consumers feel more at ease going out and being around crowds will help travel stocks. Shares of travel and leisure companies have been volatile this year, but consumers have been eager to get out of the house and spend after nearly two years when their options were constrained by the pandemic. The new omicron variant definitely throws a wrench into the recovery, but it appears it may only delay the end of the pandemic, rather than largely reversing the progress made thus far.

Though there wasn't any company-specific news from either of the cruise line operators Monday, AMC did unveil a new non-fungible token (NFT) -- depicting a gold-embossed medallion that says, "I Own AMC" -- that it will award to members of its AMC Investor Connect program. Self-identified AMC shareholders can sign up for the program and receive extra perks at AMC theaters, as well as other perks like this NFT. It's another attempt by AMC to capitalize on the latest trends among retail investors, bolster its shareholder base, and keep its stock price up.  

Now what

Monday morning delivered a nice bounce for these out-of-home stocks, but there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the companies' recovery, even outside of the omicron variant. All three of these companies had to take on huge amounts of debt to make it through the earlier stages of the pandemic, and even if the new variant causes less severe cases of COVID-19, an omicron-driven surge could delay the recovery of their businesses and impair their ability to pay off those debts. For instance, Carnival now has $30 billion in debt on its balance sheet. And while AMC was able to sell stock at high prices to raise funds to pay down some of its debt, it massively diluted its shareholders in the process.

So while Monday may be featuring a nice relief rally for these stocks, their intrinsic value based on their eventual post-pandemic earnings remains unclear.

Billy Duberstein owns shares of Carnival and has the following options: short January 2022 $32.50 calls on Carnival. His clients may own shares of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Carnival. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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