The impact on cruise companies’ earnings from cancelled trips, steep discounts and ships quarantined over coronavirus concerns could pose credit risks, said rating agencies Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings.
Carnival Corp and Royal Caribbean Cruises said last week that scrapped itineraries in Asia due to the outbreak would affect their earnings per share more than expected. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings on Thursday forecast an impact of 75 cents per share on full-year adjusted earnings, citing virus-linked fallout.
“It reduces the flexibility that these companies have in their rating categories,” said Moody’s analyst Peter Trombetta. “It removes some of their cushions.”The earnings impact on both Carnival and Royal Caribbean were deemed “credit negative” by Moody’s although neither company’s credit ratings were immediately affected.
Financially, “Carnival would be impacted the most. They also have the most capacity in China. So they would probably see the biggest hit to earnings,” said Trombetta.
In response to a request for comment, a Carnival spokesman said, “The primary impact on the cruise industry is focused mostly on China, which is an emerging market for the cruise industry, so the impact is relatively small.” Neither Royal Caribbean nor Norwegian responded to a request for comment.
While the outbreak casts a shadow on the cruise industry in the short-term, credit analysts said they did not expect the effect to be lasting.
“We have very short memories,” said Trombetta, citing disasters like the wreck of the Costa Concordia ship in 2012, which killed 32 people. “People want to go on cruises. Once some time passes, that demand – so far – seems to keep coming back.”
Fitch Ratings, the third of the three largest credit rating agencies do not publicly rate the cruise companies, but analyst Colin Mansfield, who covers the gaming, lodging and leisure sectors, said he expected the consequences of the epidemic to be temporary.
And yet, Norwegian Cruise Line Chief Executive Frank Del Rio noted on a call with investors on Thursday that the coronavirus in particular “has caused near panic in the travelling public.”
“The decrease in bookings is similar to what we see – we have seen in past similar events, whether they be geopolitical during the financial crisis, et cetera. What’s a little bit different about this one is the increase in cancellations.”
That bias could create longer-term problems for the industry. There is some potential for “a softer demand picture in general if cruise gets some bad PR from this that sticks in peoples’ minds for any period of time,” said Paul Golding, analyst at Macquarie Capital. (Reporting by Kate Duguid; Editing by Megan Davies, Steve Orlofsky and Daniel Wallis)(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2019.