By Chris Peters
(Reuters) - Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (RCL) reported strong bookings for 2014 as more vacationers opted for its Europe cruises, helping the world's second-largest cruise operator take market share from Carnival Corp (CCL).
Royal Caribbean shares rose 5 percent in afternoon trading, after the company reported better-than-expected quarterly results and raised its 2013 earnings forecast.
"Clearly Royal Caribbean has gained some traction ... at the expense of some of its competitors (like Carnival)," Morningstar analyst Jaime Katz said.
Carnival, which leads the cruise industry worldwide, has been hurt by negative publicity from mishaps on its ships. The company warned in September that it might report an adjusted loss for the fourth quarter, following a 30 percent fall in third-quarter profit.
Royal Caribbean surprised investors by offering a positive outlook for 2014, Katz wrote in a note to clients.
Headline-grabbing accidents over the past couple of years, such as the sinking of the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy, have hurt demand in the cruise industry. Earlier this month, a six-year-old boy drowned in a pool aboard a ship operated by Carnival.
"Carnival has some sort of brand specific issues, particularly Costa," Katz said. "We would likely see the uptick come a little bit slower for Carnival."
While the incidents aboard Royal Caribbean ships have not been as serious, the company had been forced to cut prices and invest in promotions to revive demand.
Royal Caribbean said prices for the first quarter of 2014 remained steady from a year earlier and trended higher for the following quarters.
Pricing in the Caribbean, however, remained under pressure, and advance bookings were weaker, the company said.
The cruise operator said it had higher bookings for 2014 in most markets including Europe, Asia and Alaska.
"(Royal Caribbean's) performance and forward operating commentary is indicative of a generally healthy cruise operating environment," JP Morgan analyst Joseph Greff wrote in a note.
Demand for cruises in Europe was driven not just by vacationers in the region but also by those from other markets such as the United States.
"Europe has performed pretty weakly over the last few years," Katz said. "At some point, you hit a trough."
Royal Caribbean said in a post-earnings conference call that its cruises in China were an area of uncertainty early in the third quarter due to the country's territorial dispute with Japan, but Chinese pricing and volumes turned out to be better than expected.
The company raised its full-year adjusted earnings forecast to $2.30-$2.35 per share from $2.20-$2.30 per share.
Analysts on average were expecting $2.28 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The company said it expected net yields, a measure of ticket sales and money spent onboard, to rise about 3 percent in 2013. Net yields rose 2.6 percent in the third quarter ended September 30, excluding currency fluctuations.
The company's net income fell slightly to $365.7 million, or $1.65 per share.
Royal Caribbean earned $1.71 per share on an adjusted basis, higher than the average analyst estimate of $1.65.
Total revenue rose 3.5 percent to $2.31 billion, beating average analyst estimate of $2.26 billion due to last-minute bookings in Europe and Asia and increased spending aboard its ships.
Royal Caribbean's stock was up at $41.92 on the New York Stock Exchange. Carnival shares rose 2 percent to $34.66.
(Additional reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar and Maria Ajit Thomas; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Kirti Pandey)
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