A sluggish European economy and looming fiscal cliff in the U.S. aren't doing any favors for the cruise industry, Carnival Corp. revealed Thursday.
The Miami-based cruise giant reported a steep drop in profits for the fiscal fourth quarter, which ended Nov. 30, although results were better than the company and analysts had expected. Net income dropped from $217 million in the fourth quarter of 2011 to $93 million during the same time this year, which includes $5 million of net unrealized losses on fuel derivatives. Revenues fell from $3.7 billion to $3.6 billion.
For the full year, revenues dropped from $15.8 billion to $15.4 billion and net income fell from $1.9 billion to $1.3 billion. Included in the period was the deadly wreck of the Carnival-owned Costa Concordia in January.
Advance bookings for 2013 are behind what they were a year ago and are fetching lower prices, leading Carnival to project that yields -- the revenue made per capacity day -- will increase only 1-2 percent on a constant dollar basis. The company projected full-year earnings of $2.20-$2.40 a share, lower than expectations. In addition to Costa Cruises, Carnival Corp. owns nine other brands including Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line.
Howard Frank, the company's vice chairman and chief operating officer, said recent trends have been somewhat promising: For the last 13 weeks, booking volumes and pricing for brands excluding Costa have been on par with last year's strong performance. For North American brands, prices are slightly higher while bookings are a bit behind, and European, Australian and Asian brands are showing stronger bookings than last year but at lower prices.
"We are encouraged by the recent North American booking pattern, especially given consumer distraction from the elections and post-election consumer nervousness about the pending fiscal cliff," Frank said during a conference call with analysts. "So we are hopeful that once the fiscal cliff issue is resolved and we get into January and the wave season begins, consumers will start to turn their attention getting on with their lives and booking their cruise vacations."
Earlier this year, the industry's busy booking time that starts in January, called "wave season," was interrupted by the Concordia accident in Italy that killed 32 passengers and crew. Cruise operators were forced to slash prices to entice passengers to cruise in the wake of the disaster, and the soft European economy only added to the long financial recovery period.
While the United Kingdom and Germany were initially strong points for the cruise industry this year, Carnival Chairman and CEO Micky Arison said those areas have weakened in the later part of 2012 and are causing concern for 2013.
The yield forecast surprised analysts, who had expected bigger numbers.
"This 1-2 percent is not a particularly satisfying number," analyst Harry Curtis, of Nomura Securities International, told executives during the call.
Wells Fargo Securities analyst Tim Conder said in a note to investors that the reward for investing could still be worth the risk for several reasons, including easier year-over-year comparisons in late 2013, the resiliency of demand for value-oriented vacations and "the likelihood of a third consecutive year 'black swan' event" -- such as disruptions from the Arab Spring in 2011 and the Concordia in 2012 -- "is limited."
Carnival stock closed at $36.99, down 5.3 percent from the previous day's close.
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