Royal Caribbean Cruises is giving investors who recently abandoned ship a reason to come back on board.
The cruise-line operator reported its biggest quarterly earnings beat since 2013 last week and revised 2016 earnings guidance higher. For shareholders, it's a welcome sign that the $17 billion company is getting back on track after a miss earlier in the year contributed to a more than 30 percent drubbing of the stock.
Royal Caribbean, like other cruise lines, has been buffeted by currency fluctuations and enjoyed cheaper fuel costs. Looking past those variables, there was unadulterated good news in a key industry metric -- growth in so-called net yields, or the revenue per available passenger space. These were buoyed by the company's move to abandon last-minute discounts, as well as increases in on-board spending on Internet services and beverages. The trend is expected to continue: Revenue is projected to grow 7.6 percent in 2016, up from a 2.8 percent gain in 2015. It would be the strongest year-on-year jump since 2011.
Wall Street analysts reckon the stock is undervalued and on average, believe it could be worth $95.71 by this time next year (it closed Monday at $78.72). That's because they're confident the company will achieve -- and perhaps beat -- its long-term "Double-Double" plan, which involves Royal Caribbean doubling its 2014 earnings per share by 2017 and reaching double-digit return on invested capital, or ROIC, by 2017.
North American consumers made up 54 percent of the global cruise industry's 23 million passengers in 2015, according to Royal Caribbean's estimates. And even if they continue their preference of travelling close to home in Alaskan and Caribbean waters rather than the Mediterranean (partly for fear of terrorism in Europe), the company expects more first-time cruisers across North America, Europe and especially, Asia, to help add to the tally.
Royal Caribbean's shares trade at roughly 12.7 times estimated 2016 earnings, making it cheaper than rivals Norwegian Cruise Lines and Carnival, which are trading at fiscal 2016 P/E multiples of 13.2 and 14.7, respectively. Plus, it has $50 million remaining from a $500 million share buyback program left to spend.
Smooth sailing isn't guaranteed, but investors can expect calmer waters.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Notably, the stock's short interest as a percentage of its free float has climbed to 8.8 percent, its highest since mid-2011, according to data from Markit and Bloomberg.
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