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It's Time to Set Sail on Cruise Ship Stocks

Rick Munarriz, The Motley Fool

Hitting the high seas on a cruise ship has never been more popular, but investors keep fumbling through their pockets for some Dramamine. Shares of Royal Caribbean (NYSE: RCL) came within pocket change of hitting a new 52-week low last week after posting mixed third-quarter results.

It wasn't a bad report. The country's second-largest cruise line operator came through with a 9% increase in revenue, Royal Caribbean's biggest growth spurt in more than six years. The cruise ship giant did close on the Silversea acquisition at the end of July -- and one would assume that those results padded the final two months of the third quarter -- but Royal Caribbean is initially reporting the financials for the luxury line it acquired on a three-month lag. In other words, Silversea's incremental performance for the months of August and September won't be recorded until the current quarter. 

Zipline shore excursion at Labadee with a Royal Caribbean ship in the water.

Image source: Royal Caribbean.

Exotic ports of call

The news gets even better on Royal Caribbean's bottom line. Adjusted net income rose 11% for the third quarter, just ahead of analysts' expectations. Guidance is where one might initially conclude that the cruise line fell short, but there's more to that than meets the eye.

Royal Caribbean now sees adjusted earnings per share clocking in between $8.75 and $8.85 for the year, just below the $8.91 that analysts were targeting -- but hold your place in the midnight buffet. Royal Caribbean is just narrowing the focus of the $8.70-to-$8.90 per share range it was modeling three months earlier. The range also now includes the negative impact of roughly $0.10 a share for currency and fuel changes, as the stronger dollar weighs on money made overseas and fuel is growing more expensive. 

Royal Caribbean stock took an 11% hit last week. It's not fair given the refreshingly healthy report.

It's not alone. Carnival (NYSE: CCL) (NYSE: CUK) also took a hit last month when it reported its latest financial results. Carnival's report wasn't as robust as what Royal Caribbean put out last week. Revenue rose 6%, and adjusted net income managed a marginal 1% uptick for the world's largest cruise line operator.

The industry is moving in the right direction. Bookings remain strong for Royal Caribbean and Carnival. Norwegian Cruise Line (NASDAQ: NCLH) reports early next month, likely confirming the cruise industry's strength. Norwegian Cruise Line had a strong performance last time out

Wall Street doesn't see it that way. Shares of Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian Cruise Line begin this new trading week trading within 2% of their 52-week lows. Investors appear to be skittish on the prospects of cruise getaways, possibly a reaction to international tensions or a busy hurricane season that may be keeping some well-to-do travelers closer to home. 

This is shaping up to be an ideal opportunity to lift the anchor here and hop on any of the three publicly traded players. The sharp corrections are pushing yields higher. Carnival and Royal Caribbean are now yielding 3.7% and 2.7%, respectively. Norwegian Cruise Line is investing its money back in its fleet. The markdowns will naturally be well earned if the global economy takes a deep hit or travel tensions escalate, but for now, this is shaping up to be as big an opportunity as snapping up a future cruise sailing at value-season pricing. It's a great deal, but the sale won't last forever.

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Rick Munarriz owns shares of Royal Caribbean. The Motley Fool recommends Carnival. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.