J.P. Morgan: 2 Cruise Line Stocks to Bet on (And 1 to Avoid)
The coronavirus pandemic crisis shows no signs of abating, even with a vaccine coming on to the markets. We’re still facing severe social lockdown policies, with a number of states (such as California, Minnesota, and Michigan) forcing even harsher restrictions on this round than previously.It’s a heavy blow for the leisure industry that is still reeling from one of the most difficult years in memory. The difficulties faced by restaurants are getting more press, but for the cruise industry, corona has been a perfect storm.Prior to the pandemic, the cruise industry – which had been doing $150 billion worth of business annually – was expected to carry 32 million passengers in 2020. That’s all gone now. During the summer, the industry reeled when over 3,000 COVID cases were linked to 123 separate cruise ships, and resulted in 34 deaths. After such a difficult year, it’s useful to step back and take a snapshot of the industry’s condition. JPMorgan analyst Brandt Montour has done just that, in a comprehensive review of the cruise industry generally and three cruise line giants in particular.“We believe cruise shares can continue to grind higher in the near term, driven overwhelmingly by the broader vaccine backdrop/progress. Looking out further, operators will face plenty of headwinds when restarting/ramping operations in 2Q3Q21, but significant sequential improvement of revenues/cash flows over that period will likely dominate the narrative, and we believe investors will continue to look through short-term setbacks to a 2022 characterized by fully ramped capacity, near-full occupancies, and so far manageable pricing pressure,“ Montour opined.Against this backdrop, Montour has picked out two stocks that are worth the risk, and one that investors should avoid for now. Using TipRanks’ Stock Comparison tool, we lined up the three alongside each other to get the lowdown on what the near-term holds for these cruise line players.Royal Caribbean (RCL)The second-largest cruise line, Royal Caribbean, remains a top pick for Montour and his firm. The company has put its resources into facing and meeting the pandemic’s challenges, shoring up liquidity and both streamlining and modernizing the fleet.Maintaining liquidity has been the most pressing issue. While the company has resumed some cruising, and has even taken delivery of a new ship, the Silver Moon, most operations remain suspended. For Q3, the company reported adjusted earnings of -$5.62, below consensus of -$5.17. Management estimates the cash burn to be between $250 million and $290 million monthly. To combat that, RCL reported having $3.7 billion in liquidity at the end of September. That included $3 billion in cash on hand along with $700 million available through a credit facility. Total liquidity at the end of Q3 was down more than 9% from the end of Q2. Since the third quarter ended, RCL has added over $1 billion to its cash position, through an issue of $500 million senior notes and a sale of stock, putting an additional 8.33 million shares on the market at $60 each.In his note on Royal Caribbean, Montour writes, “[We] are most constructive on OW-rated RCL, which we believe has the most compelling set of demand drivers… its extensive investments in premium priced new hardware, as well as consumer data, all set RCL up well to outgrow the industry in revenue metrics, margins, and ROIC over the longer term.”Montour backs his Overweight (i.e. Buy) rating with a $91 price target. This figure represents a 30% upside potential for 2021. (To watch Montour’s track record, click here)Is the rest of the Street in agreement? As it turns out, the analyst consensus is more of a mixed bag. 4 Buy ratings and 6 Holds give RCL a Moderate Buy status. Meanwhile, the stock is selling for $69.58 per share, slightly above the $68.22 average price target. (See RCL stock analysis on TipRanks)Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH)With a market cap of $7.45 billion and a fleet of 28 ships, Norwegian Cruise Line found its relatively smaller size as an advantage in this pandemic time. With a smaller and newer fleet, overhead costs, especially ship maintenance, were lower. These advantages don’t mean that the company has avoided the storm. Earlier this month, Norwegian announced a prolongation of its suspension of voyages policy, covering all scheduled voyages from January 1, 2021 through February 28, 2021, plus selected voyages in March 2021. These cancellations come as Norwegian’s revenues are down – in the third quarter, the top line was just $6.5 million, compared to $1.9 billion in the year-ago quarter. The company also reported a cash burn of $150 million per month.To combat the cash burn and minimal revenues, Norwegian, in November and December, took steps to improve liquidity. The company closed on $850 million in senior notes, at 5.875% and due in 2026, during November, and earlier this month closed an offering of common stock. The stock offering totaled 40 million shares at $20.80 per share. Together, the two offerings raised over $1.6 billion in new capital.On a more positive note, Norwegian is preparing for an eventual resumption of full services. The company announced, on Dec 7, a partnership with AtmosAir Solutions for the installation of air purification systems on all 28 vessels of its current fleet, using filtration technology known to defeat the coronavirus.JPM’s Montour points out these advantages in his review of Norwegian, and sums up the bottom line: “This coupled with a relatively newer, higher-end, brand/ship footprint would generally lead us to believe it was in a good position to outperform on pricing growth, though its demographics skewing to older age customers probably will remain a drag through 2021. Ultimately, NCLH is a high-quality asset within the broader cruise industry, with a higher beta to a cruise recovery, and it should see outperformance as the industry returns and investors look further out the risk spectrum.”Montour gives the stock a $30 price target and an Overweight (i.e. Buy) rating. His target implies an upside of 27% on the one-year time frame.Norwegian is another cruise line with a Moderate Buy from the analyst consensus. This rating is based on 4 Buys, 4 Holds, and 1 Sell set in recent months. Like RCL above, the stock price here, $23.55, is currently higher than the average price target, $23.22. (See NCLH stock analysis on TipRanks)Carnival Corporation (CCL)Last up, Carnival, is the world’s largest cruise line, with a market cap of $23.25 billion, more than 100 ships across its brands, and over 700 destination ports. In normal times, this giant footprint gave the company an advantage; now, however, it has become an expensive liability. This is clear from the company’s fiscal Q3 cash burn, which approached $770 million.Like the other big cruise companies, Carnival has extended its voyage cancellations, or, in the company’s terms, the ‘pause in operations.’ The Cunard line, one of Carnival’s brands, has cancelled voyages on the Queen Mary 2 and the Queen Elizabeth through early June of next year. Carnival has also cancelled operations in February from the ports of Miami, Galveston, and Port Canaveral, and pushed back the inaugural voyage of the new ship Mardi Gras to the end of April 2021. These measures were taken in compliance with coronavirus restrictions.Carnival’s shares and revenues are suffering deep losses this year. The stock is down 60% year-to-date, despite some recent price rallies since the end of October. Revenues fell to just $31 million in the fiscal third quarter, reported in September. Carnival reported a loss of nearly $3 billion in that quarter. The company did end the third quarter with over $8 billion in available cash, an impressive resource to face the difficult situation.This combination of strength and weakness led Montour to put a Neutral (i.e. Hold) rating on CCL shares. However, his $25 price target suggests a possible upside of 23%.In comments on Carnival, Montour wrote, “[We] believe that some of the same relative net yield drags it saw in 2018-2019 due to its sheer size will likely become top of mind on the other side of this crisis… However, given CCL’s relative share discount, less pricing growth ahead of the crisis, and geographical diversification, we see it as the company with the least downside over the next few months and are not surprised by its recent outperformance. We believe this will reverse in the 2H21.” Overall, Carnival has a Hold rating from the analyst consensus. This rating is based on 10 reviews, breaking down to 1 Buy, 8 Holds, and 1 Sell. The stock is selling for $20.28 and its $18.86 average price target implies a downside potential of ~7%. (See CCL stock analysis on TipRanks)To find good ideas for stocks trading at attractive valuations, visit TipRanks’ Best Stocks to Buy, a newly launched tool that unites all of TipRanks’ equity insights.Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the featured analysts. The content is intended to be used for informational purposes only. It is very important to do your own analysis before making any investment.