The cruise industry view of Trump’s order to leave China

Image result for royal caribbean in china

With President Trump “ordering” U.S. companies via Twitter to leave China, and suggesting they return home, one wonders what would happen if he turned his attention to the cruise firms headquartered in Miami.

Could he “order” them to bring their Shanghai-based ships back to U.S. waters? Or to stop building their $1 billion ships in Europe?

Of course, the first obstacle is that none of these companies are legally incorporated in the U.S. But set that aside for a minute. They’re certainly American companies in other respects.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio appears to have beaten Trump to the punch by ordering home the Norwegian Joy to sail in Alaska this summer alongside its doppelganger, the Norwegian Bliss.

Of course, Del Rio acted for business reasons and not out of any animosity towards China or need to chastise Chinese leader Xi Jinping for raising tariffs.

If Royal Caribbean International or Princess Cruises did pull their ships from China, they would probably be rewarded on Wall Street, which has a much easier time analyzing profits in the short term than investments for the long haul, which the China market needs.

But the cruise ship example shows how perverse the strategy of “finding an alternative to China” can be for many industries. Calling home the ships in the China market doesn’t mean they would sail from Seattle to San Diego full of happy Americans.

In fact, American law would prohibit them from being used that way. The ships would go back into the international mix of itineraries that have some ships departing from Miami and New York, but others from Barcelona and Southampton.

The kingly notion of imposing tariffs and directing private business decisions from the throne was losing viability when economist Adam Smith attacked it in the 18th century. It may have some political appeal but in economic terms, the world has passed it by.

For the same reason, building big cruise ships in America – no matter the cost – makes no particular sense either.

As many companies manufacturing in China are finding out, the key in the 21st century to making things reliably and at market prices is an intelligent and at least somewhat skilled workforce and a robust network of proven contractors that can accommodate just in time delivery.

That’s what the European shipyards that make cruise ships have. And by operating within the framework of the European Union they can bring to bear a workforce that while not as large as China’s is larger than the U.S’s.

Yes, China may be cheating on some of the economic terms and conditions that make free trade a win-win proposition. But going back to the idea that each country should manufacture everything on its own makes about as much sense as booking your next cruise on the Nina, the Pinta or the Santa Maria.

Norwegian Joy’s Onboard Revenue More Than Doubles in Alaska

Norwegian Joy’s Onboard Revenue More Than Doubles in Alaska

Norwegian Joy in Seattle

The decision to move the Norwegian Joy from China to the North American market has been successful for Norwegian Cruise Line.

“The redeployment of Norwegian Joy to Alaska resulted to a profound improvement to her profitability, especially in the top line driven by more than doubling of her onboard revenue generation,” said Frank Del Rio, president and CEO, on the Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ second-quarter earnings call.

The decision to pull the ship from China came in 2018, as part of the company’s strategic itinerary optimization initiative which also included its entry into new European homeports.

The North American launch of Norwegian Joy generated over $2.5 billion media impressions and further elevated Norwegian Cruise Line’s already the preeminent position in the all-important growing and high-yielding Alaska market, Del Rio said.

“We are extremely pleased to not only see her garnering the high pricing she rightfully deserves but also to see her deliver a customer experience that ranks her first in guest satisfaction for the Norwegian brand, driven by the high-tech and industry-first innovation onboard.”

Next year is shaping up to be even stronger for Joy in North America.

“And I may add that we won’t have the challenges of selling Joy, a very large ship, in a very abbreviated eight-, or nine-month booking cycle like we did this year when we announced her departure from China,” Del Rio explained.”We have a regular (18- to 24-month) booking cycle in front of us.”

According to Andy Stuart, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, Joy is ahead in the pricing of the vessel she replaced in the Alaska market.

Bullish on Alaska, the growth will grow with the Norwegian Sun joining the market in 2020, sailing seven- to 15-day cruises from Seattle.

“We believe the Norwegian Sun Alaska deployment will generate yield that will approach, if not be equal to what she was commanding in her Cuba deployment led by strong onboard spending,” Del Rio said.

Fain: Cruise Industry Has Features That Make It Recession Resistant

Navigator of the Seas

Royal Caribbean Cruises is well-prepared to adapt to a changing marketplace, according to Chairman and CEO Richard Fain, speaking on the company’s second-quarter earnings call.

“When circumstances change, we are prepared to adapt. While no one is recession-proof, looking forward, I think the industry has features that make it recession-resistant,” he said. “The growing appeal of our product, the relative price attractiveness, the fixed cost component, the portability of our assets, et cetera; all of these things make us better able to do well even in bad times.

“A good example of that would be China, where Spectrum of the Seas started operating just a few weeks ago,” Fain continued. “Conventional wisdom suggests that bringing a new ship into a market whose economy is weakening ain’t such a good idea. But Spectrum and our other ships there are doing very well, despite the softer economy.”

CFO Jason Liberty said that the company had plans and scenarios it would consider if the economy slowed down.

Liberty said the multi-brand cruise corporation operates a worldwide business that can source guests globally.

“We also have itineraries that go to a thousand different places,” Liberty said. “So what’s available to our guest is much more.

“We also have a much stronger balance sheet and a much stronger liquidity position,” he continued. “And I think we would evaluate our plans in case there was a change in the winds.”

That being said, Liberty said the company was not seeing any of those changes whether it’s booking levels, even daily, or onboard performance.

Looking back to the last recession, Liberty said there was regret that the company pulled back on its growth.

“We would all be talking about higher earnings numbers today, better return profile today, if we hadn’t slowed down our growth or our investment efforts in expanding our global footprint, investing in different projects that would have put us in an even stronger position than we are today.”