All aspects of travel have been severely impacted by the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, but beyond airlines and hotels the cruise industry has been hit the worst of all travel categories. That may finally be about to change, assuming things go smoothly.
Shares of the cruise line operators surged on Friday after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that it will allow a “phased approach for cruises to begin after the No-Sail Order expires. The new order will be replaced by a “Conditional Sailing Order.” This implies that some cruises could be allowed after the end of October.
While this is great news for the industry, there are going to be many strings attached. Many cruise lines have cancelled cruises even into 2021. The CDC’s conditional framework is outlined in a 40-page document and the CDC does see higher risks for cruises than it does for airlines.
Among the items disclosed are testing, safeguards for crew members, health and safety precautions, setting up lab capacity, simulated voyages, ship certifications, and risk mitigation for all people onboard the ships and in U.S. communities.
Despite a very negative day for most of Friday, shares of the cruise outfitters surged on even a hint that they could begin operations. Carnival Corporation (NYSE: CCL) rose 5.6% to $13.71 and the 74 million shares trading hands was double the normal volume at this time.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. (NYSE: NCLH) was up about 5.4% at $16.62 by the closing bell on Friday, and its 41.3 million shares was more than 50% above a normal trading day. Shares of Royal Caribbean Group (NYSE: RCL) rose by 4.8% to $56.41 on the day, and its 16.6 million shares was double the normal trading volume.
One brief research report was already issued by Wedbush Securities on Friday after the CDC notice. The firm’s James Hardiman also noted that this does not mean immediate release for the cruises. He said:
In other words, while the No-Sail Order has been lifted, it will take some undetermined amount of time before we will see normal passenger-bearing voyages out of the U.S. This clearly comes as no surprise to industry participants, as cruise lines have recently cancelled the vast majority of voyages departing from the U.S. planned in November. What’s more, the phased resumption, increased testing requirements, and simulated voyages very much jibe with how cruise executives have communicated the industry ramp.
Hardiman rates Carnival as Neutral, but he has Outperform ratings on Norwegian Cruise Line ($20 target) and on Royal Caribbean ($80 target).
One additional consideration is the explosion in the cases of coronavirus. There have now been more than 45 millions confirmed COVID-19 cases globally. The U.S. is already nearing 9.1 million confirmed cases and of those a fresh daily high more than 80,000 were seen in the last day alone.