Cruise Ship Operators Sail Into Stormy Waters

This week, the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine are being distributed throughout the United States. Among the first recipients are doctors, nurses, and other frontline medical workers. That’s great news for them, but the rest of us may have to wait while.

Below, I’ll explain how confusion over that process could put a lot of money in your pockets. But first, you need to understand the circumstances that have created this rare opportunity to score a huge gain in a short period of time.

Not among the group of initial vaccine recipients are cruise ship passengers. At least, not for that specific reason. I assume there are plenty of medical workers that will want to go on a cruise when this mess is finally over. They, too, may have to wait a while.

Last week, cruise ship operators Royal Caribbean Group (NYSE: RCL) and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NYSE: NCLH) were both placed on a credit rating watch list. The reason is another delay in the commencement of their cruise operations well into 2021.

That day, RCL lost about 5% of its value while NCLH fell more than 3%. That’s a lot to lose in a single day, but not much compared to how much they had gained in the preceding weeks. Since early November, those two stocks have gained 34% and 64%, respectively.

During that span, several successful COVID-19 trial results have been confirmed. As a result, all of the major cruise operators announced they would resume operations during the first quarter of 2021.

Since then, most of them have had to walk back those estimates. On December 2, Norwegian extended the suspension of most of its cruises with boarding dates during the first three months of 2021.

Burning Through Cash

A few days later, Norwegian announced it will install air purifying systems on all of its ships. According to the press release: “The new air filtration system technology will feature continuous active COVID disinfection through bi-polar ionization in the air and on surfaces.”

The company claims that tests confirmed “the presence of the coronavirus was reduced by 99.92% within 30 minutes of exposure” to the disinfectant. If true, then that should go a long way towards minimizing the risk of infected passengers spreading the virus to others.

But first, those ships need to get back at sea for Norwegian (and all the other cruise ship operators) to stop bleeding cash. Norwegian is burning through $175 million in cash every month while its ships remain idle. Royal Caribbean’s burn rate is even more than that.

Both companies have taken aggressive actions to shore up their balance sheets. In July, Norwegian borrowed more than $1 billion and sold $288 million in stock to raise money.

At that time, the company assumed that it would be able to resume operations during the first quarter of 2021. However, as the daily case count for COVID-19 surged in the fall, Norwegian sold another $800 million of stock to buy more time.

Royal Caribbean has not issued a secondary stock offering recently, but that day should be soon forthcoming. The company’s balance sheet cannot absorb much more debt. At the end of September, Royal Caribbean had $17.6 billion in long-term debt compared to $8.4 billion a year prior.

Norwegian’s debt load was $10.5 billion at the end of the third quarter versus $6.1 billion the previous year. That’s a lot of debt to carry when there is no cash coming in and a lot of money going out.

Another GM in the Making?

All that debt is collateralized by the only physical assets they own, which is their ships. Those ships won’t be worth much to anyone other than another cruise ship operator given their specialized design.

With all of the major cruise ship operators trying to raise money at the same time, those ships will be difficult to sell at a reasonable price. It is that concern that motivated S&P Global Ratings to place Norwegian and Royal Caribbean on their credit watch list this week.

The crisis confronting the cruise industry reminds me of what the automobile manufacturers went through 12 years ago. At the depths of the Great Recession, it was feared that all of the major U.S. carmakers would go bankrupt.

One of them, General Motors (NYSE: GM), did declare bankruptcy in 2009. Its stock went to zero. Investors that bet on GM going under made a killing.

Your chance to make a killing…

Now, I think there is a similar opportunity to score a huge gain on a failing business. This time, it’s one of the major cruise ship operators that might go under. However, it’s not one of the two mentioned above. I believe one of their competitors is in even worse shape than they are.

If my hunch proves correct, an investment idea I recently pinpointed could skyrocket in value overnight. You can find out exactly what it is, along with several other special investment opportunities from my colleagues, by signing up for our 2021 Profits Mastermind roundtable discussion.

During this special event, our editorial director John Persinos interviewed Investing Daily’s team of chief investment strategists. In addition to me, John interviewed Jim Fink, Robert Rapier, Scott Chan, and Stephen Leeb.

John asked us to reveal our top profit opportunities which could arise from a Biden presidency; “must-own” stocks for 2021; our most contrarian, “shoot-for-the-moon” stock picks; and much more.

We’re airing this event on December 18 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Don’t miss out; spaces are going fast. To reserve your spot, sign up here.