Millions of People Will Soon Be Blindsided. Will You Be One of Them?

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Carnival Is Hitting All the Branches of the Ugly Tree

To no one’s surprise, cruise liners like Carnival (NYSE:CCL, NYSE:CUK), Royal Caribbean Cruises (NYSE:RCL) and Norwegian Cruise Line (NYSE:NCLH) have been especially hurt by the novel coronavirus. At this point, they’re all interchangeable. However, Carnival is notable for its now notorious Diamond Princess ship, which became the face of the all-too-familiar quarantining protocol. As a result, CCL stock finds itself down more than 72% year-to-date.

ccl stock
Source: Ruth Peterkin /

However, that kind of loss inevitably invites speculators and those who are rookies to the markets. Sure, CCL stock looks like it’s on a discount. While the environment looks awful today, we recognize the need for vacations – especially from such stresses as shelter-in-place orders. Therefore, many are reasoning that Carnival and the broader cruise ship industry will make a recovery.

Giving fuel to this narrative is that Carnival announced earlier this month that it plans to resume service on Aug. 1. This is a week after the end of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s no-sail order for the industry. Since early April, CCL stock has been steadily creeping higher as positive sentiment trickles in.

Of course, the CDC isn’t happy about Carnival’s intent. The agency is on record stating that traveling aboard cruise liners “exacerbates the global spread of Covid-19.” But they might not need to be so vocal. It’s the people who decide with their wallet what they want to do and it’s not clear they’ll return to the open waters.

Recently, the Washington Post noted that 58% of American adults are concerned about going back to work, fearful that they might inadvertently infect their households. Imagine the sentiment for a non-essential function like going on a cruise?

Economic Realities Work Against CCL Stock

For those that think this industry offers untapped recovery potential, I would reconsider the thesis. Unlike other disasters that we’ve faced in this country, this is a crisis that has impacted in some significant way every American. Indeed, much of the world has suffered acutely from the pandemic.

Therefore, I don’t believe in the quick recovery narrative that you would find associated with, for instance, tragic accidents. That airplanes crash or that boats sink is an accepted risk that consumers take, particularly because these incidents are rare.

But now, consumers have tuned into a new risk, that of an infectious disease spreading aboard. Actually, the risk isn’t new but the concept of governments taking extreme quarantining measures is. That’s not something that consumers will easily get over, which clouds the bull case for CCL stock.

Beyond that, I also have concerns whether would-be travelers are able to go cruising. Much talk has been made of the latest jobless claims report, where 2.4 million have filed for unemployment benefits. Over a nine-week period, nearly 39 million Americans filed for aid.

Initial vs. continued jobless claims
Click to Enlarge
Source: Chart by Josh Enomoto

Several media pundits have pointed out a silver lining in the otherwise stark data. Since jobless claims hit a peak around late March/early April, the number of people making claims has declined significantly. However, I don’t see that as good news.

When the crisis first became serious, virtually all non-essential services (i.e. restaurants, sporting events, movie theaters, etc.) shut down. That left millions of service industry workers out of a job, explaining the massive spike in claims.

Now, as states reopen, we should see these early impacted workers get their jobs back. Logically, this suggests that the recent jobless claims are coming from higher-paid occupations. These are the type of folks that would go cruising.

Black Eye on the Industry Won’t Be Ignored

If the discussion above wasn’t enough to dissuade you from CCL stock, here are two interesting nuggets that I discovered:

  • Millennials love ESG stocks, or stocks of companies that rank highly for environmental, social and corporate governance principles. So much so that this group has outperformed during this crisis relative to non-ESG names.
  • Millennials love CCL stock, especially at these deflated prices. That’s according to Robinhood, whose investing app is very popular among the younger demographic.

This is a glaring contradiction. As of May 14, the U.S. Coast Guard that almost 60,000 cruise liner crew members are stuck at sea in U.S. waters. Of course, this includes many from Carnival’s payroll.

To be fair, Carnival plants to repatriate tens of thousands of their crew members throughout the world through various means. As well, bureaucratic roadblocks have utterly failed those who have been stranded. It’s not accurate to heap all the blame on the cruise ship operators.

Nevertheless, it’s an ugly black eye for the industry because the buck has to stop somewhere. And terrible tragedies of desperation have occurred among those forcibly quarantined.

Therefore, I expect that this news will filter down to the millennials who love CCL stock so much. It’s too much of a paradox to see travelers enjoying their vacation while thousands have been sentenced to glitzy, floating prisons.

A former senior business analyst for Sony Electronics, Josh Enomoto has helped broker major contracts with Fortune Global 500 companies. Over the past several years, he has delivered unique, critical insights for the investment markets, as well as various other industries including legal, construction management, and healthcare. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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