Carnival Tries to Navigate Rough Seas

The waters continue to be chilly for Carnival (NYSE: CCL) (NYSE: CUK) investors. Shares of the world's leading cruise line operator hit two-year lows after posting mixed financial results on Thursday morning. The report also sent shares of smaller rivals lower.

Revenue rose 4.3% to $4.456 billion during the seasonally sleepy fiscal fourth quarter. After being spoiled by back-to-back periods of double-digit percentage growth to kick off the fiscal year, decelerating growth has seen revenue upticks slow to 5.8% in the third quarter and 4.3% this time around. To be fair, net cruise revenue on a constant currency basis actually accelerated to 6.1%.

All aboard

Gross revenue yields -- a vital metric for the cruise industry that measures revenue per available lower berth day -- rose 1.9% for the fiscal fourth quarter. That figure balloons up to 3.7% when you back out any currency fluctuations, and that's considerably better than the 1.5% to 2.5% uptick on that basis that it was targeting back in late September. Carnival has historically been conservative with that metric, and once again, it set the bar low enough for it to be easily cleared.

Adjusted net income -- the best measuring stick to assess bottom-line performance as it backs out lumpy unrealized gains and losses on fuel derivatives and other net charges -- rose 8.8% to $492 million, or $0.70 a share. Gross cruise costs excluding the volatile variable of fuel per available lower berth day declined 0.5%, a welcome sight at first glance, but less than the 1% to 2% year-over-year dip that Carnival was publicly projecting three months ago.

The reasonably strong showing looking back begins to hit choppy waters when we check into Carnival's early read on the current quarter. Carnival sees net revenue yields declining 3% in the fiscal first quarter, or flat on a constant currency basis. It also sees net cruise costs excluding fuel rising during the period, a bad combination that leaves the world's largest cruise player targeting adjusted earnings per share of $0.40 to $0.44. It clocked in at $0.52 per share a year earlier.

The initiated guidance for all of fiscal 2019 is better. It sees net revenue yields up 1% on a constant currency basis, and when you consider the capacity growth as new ships come online, Carnival is eyeing net cruise revenues to rise 5.5% on that basis. It sees adjusted earnings per share coming in between $4.50 and $4.80, up nicely from the $4.26 it just rang up for fiscal 2018.

Carnival points out that advance bookings for the full year are "considerably ahead" of the pace it was at a year earlier on similar pricing. It points out that the uptick in demand is resulting in less inventory remaining for the balance of fiscal 2019 despite the slightly higher capacity. The full-year outlook is encouraging, but investors are naturally going to put more weight on the current quarter, where the guidance was disappointing, than the rosier perspective behind the more uncertain subsequent quarters.

The stock being at two-year lows does push the yield higher. Carnival's $1.4 billion in annual payouts is pushing its current yield north of 4%. Carnival also continues to return money to its shareholders through buybacks, but with the stock at its lowest level since late 2016, one can argue that it hasn't been the smartest use of its money. Carnival is doing a good job of attracting passengers to its growing fleet, and now it needs to woo investors.

10 stocks we like better than CarnivalWhen investing geniuses David and Tom Gardner have a stock tip, it can pay to listen. After all, the newsletter they have run for over a decade, Motley Fool Stock Advisor, has quadrupled the market.*

David and Tom just revealed what they believe are the 10 best stocks for investors to buy right now... and Carnival wasn't one of them! That's right -- they think these 10 stocks are even better buys.

Click here to learn about these picks!

*Stock Advisor returns as of November 14, 2018

Rick Munarriz has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Carnival. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.