Category: Security Analysis

Fresh Look at AgroFresh Stock $AGFS

Reading Time: 6 minutes

AgroFresh is a company that sells 1-MCP, a chemical that helps slow down the ripening process of fruit and vegetables. You know how you can eat apples all year long? Did you ever think that’s strange given harvest season is September-October? With 1-MCP, apples can be stored for a year. That’s right – sometimes you are eating year-old apples. I’ve been following AgroFresh for years and there are certain times when the skew on the stock becomes very interesting.


Disclaimer

This is a quick idea today and I need a disclaimer upfront. This is not investment advice and I use this blog as an investment journal. The subject company today is very risky. You should expect that I may invest in this company and then quickly move on if I see a quick return. You should do your own due diligence.


Key Issues

Anyway, back to AgroFresh stock. The issues have always been:

  • They were bought by a SPAC, which raised red flags given SPAC deal dynamics. AgroFresh stock has not been a good performer since then.
  • It was a carve-out from Dow Chemical, who knows a thing or two about chemicals. So their choice to sell a high margin business was odd (Dow later re-invested in the company through the open market).
  • They have a decent amount of debt (recently refinanced, though expensive).
  • This typically was viewed as a 1 product, 1 market company (viewed as only Smartfresh 1-MCP product with apples).
  • One patent had rolled off in 2015 and more were coming in 2019 and 2020. It was unclear whether earnings would collapse or not

Each of these are valid issues  with AgroFresh stock. The last issue is the most important one in my view. As you can see below, the gross margins and EBITDA margins are super high. They do about $71MM in EBITDA, with 42.5% margins, and only have $3MM in capex (less than 2% of sales) so have extremely high FCF conversion.

Excluding the intangibles assets from their buyout and cash, they have $153MM in assets, but do $71MM in EBITDA – that’s a super high ROIC and highlights the intellectual property and high service model is creating a barrier.


So why is this worth a look?

Frankly, I think the risk / reward is getting very compelling. I’ve made a decent amount of money in stocks the rest of the market thinks is going bankrupt, but where I think the odds are more likely it does not.

First of all, they generate a lot of FCF. Despite a new onerous debt restructuring entered into last year (their prior term loan matured in July 2021, so it was about to become “current”), I still think we’re accruing cash to equity at around 20%. As mentioned a lot, I like good companies with bad balance sheets. This may just be an OK company with a bad balance sheet, but thats OK.

Debt Refinancing

The debt deal was entered into because the company had an upcoming maturity. They got a new $275MM term loan at L+625bps with a 1% floor, which foots to about $20MM of interest per year. I think they’ll be able to refinance that at a better rate, but the loan does have 101 hard call protection until July 2021.

More importantly, they have a seriously onerous convertible pref equity that was put in place by Paine Schwartz Partners (PSP). It accrues at 16% (half cash / half PIK in year one). Call protection is determined by a multiple of invested capital, which also seems aggressive:

If they can take this pref out before July 2021, Agrofresh will need to pay 1.5x the pref amount of $150MM, which is ~$225MM (it is actually less than this, because MOIC includes original issue discount + coupons, but you get the idea).

Otherwise, Agrofresh has to pay 16% interest while this thing is outstanding. For me, I’d want that out of here as fast as possible. On the other hand, if AGFS takes it out in year one, it’s basically like paying 50% interest. I guess that’s the cost of capital during a pandemic when you have a maturity coming due.

Here’s how the pref shakes out, assuming they PIK the minimum amount each year (the PIK interest is added to the balance). As you can see, the PSP pref is brutal because the high rate incentivizes a refi, but the make-whole is large too so it is actually better to wait a bit and execute on your business plan.

There are some other green shoots. Agrofresh won an IP lawsuit against UPL, one of the largest ag chemical companies, and was awarded over $30MM. They can actually use this to paydown the preferred at more favorable terms. Obviously there are two good outcomes of this that I don’t need to directly spell out for readers.


Patent Protection

Smartfresh is the flagship product for Agrofresh. Fortunately or unfortunately, the patent that still applies to a bulk in revenue still lasts until 2022. So unfortunately, it is still a wait and see story.

And what does management say about competition, otherwise? It’s not really new. Here’s a quote back from 2016 (by the way, this TruPick product they are talking about it what they won the lawsuit for):


Optionality

The last thing I’ll say is there is other optionality in this investment. Essentially, take this chemical and apply it to other fruits and vegetables that could be preserved. Man, avocados go from too hard to too ripe way before I’m even ready for it.

So far, they’ve actually done a decent job. Back in 2014, the company was 88% apple-related sales. Now it’s just 60%.

It seems like the company wants to aggressively expand here. Part of the management teams bonus is tied to it (25%).


Management Alignment

Speaking of bonuses, I like that mgmt has a decent amount of options that are way out of the money at $2/share. Mgmt was also in the open market in 2019 buying at $2.35/share.

However, I’m not super thrilled that total comp is around $2MM / year for a company doing $71MM in EBITDA with abysmal stock performance so far.


So why now?

AGFS stock has been a value trap to some extent.

  • Refi that expensive preferred capital  and potentially the term loan.
    • Fortunately or unfortunately, the credit market is aggressive right now and many companies will be able to survive this cycle that wouldn’t have survived past ones.
    • In reality, perhaps they should come to market with a 9% unsecured bond. It’d be juicy in this market (and HoldCo PIKs are trading at lower yields)
    • AgroFresh could do a $375MM deal to takeout the pref + TL and still come out with cheaper cost of capital all-in.
    • Doing this would free up capital for the common shareholders
    • I think they may be able to do something by July 2021. But thesis isn’t predicated on that.
  • Sentiment feels bad on it. Stock seems completely washed out. I like that. Slightly positive news would send it higher.
    • I like the skew: If I see patent weakness or too much competitive threat, can likely exit before losing the whole position. If they surprise to the upside, even modestly, the stock will re-rate very quickly (especially with the leverage).
    • Small wins are meaningful: If AGFS gets a $10MM win, that’s much more incremental to them because they are a microcap.

$NXEOW Warrant Recap (& Maybe Post-mortem) $UNVR

Reading Time: 3 minutes

It’s been awhile since I’ve discussed the Nexeo warrants, which are now tied to Univar’s stock performance following the acquisition. At one point, I’m pretty confident this blog was the go-to place for information on the merger and its impact on the warrants.

Unfortunately, none of that matters now. We have 145 days to expiry and the strike price is $27.8034 vs. UNVR currently trading at $20.64. History would tell me that this isn’t unsurmountable, but it may not be likely that UNVR is in the money.

But  I try to be an optimist (especially because I still own a lot of NXEOW), so I do have a couple points on why I think the warrants could possibly make it. To be clear, I’m grasping for straws here because Univar really needs to make it to $30 to get the warrants sufficiently in the money.

UNVR has materially underperformed its peers  

This chart compares returns for a broad set of chemical stocks. UNVR has materially underperformed, but that makes no sense. UNVR distributes these company’s chemicals! If the suppliers are doing well, odds are UNVR should be doing well.

If UNVR had performed in line with the average of these names, it would be at $28.70 right now, not closer to $20.

Macro Data is Suggests Chemicals Should be in Strong Demand

Ok, the last chart was pretty hand wavy. But it makes sense why the chemical stocks have ripped. The underlying data is suggesting a really strong economy.

PMI is “an index of the prevailing direction of economic trends in the manufacturing and service sectors. It consists of a diffusion index that summarizes whether market conditions, as viewed by purchasing managers, are expanding, staying the same, or contracting”

So PMI is a measure of expansionary or declining conditions, with 50 being neutral. Clearly we are expanding in these markets.

This isn’t a perfect comparison, but look at PMI vs. the basic materials index. You can see the correlation in their performance. The only thing to remember is that XLB is a basket of stocks that should build value over time whereas PMI can only bounce between 0-100.


In my view, there’s no reason why UNVR shouldn’t be performing better. Commodity prices have improved, industries such as autos and housing (which consume a lot of chemicals) are doing much better. And all of UNVR’s suppliers are doing much better. I guess we’ll find out if they can close the gap.


Post Mortem

Since this may not pan out, I’ll go ahead and write my brief post mortem. I DON’T have regrets investing in these warrants. I say that despite the fact that I stand to lose a decent chunk of change on them.

I had strong conviction Nexeo was being underappreciated by the market and the warrants were a levered bet on that view. Nexeo was indeed taken out, despite tons of pushback from people saying Univar wouldn’t ever do it. I saw the opportunity to possibly 6x my money with downside being the ticket to play the game.

Once people digested what the acquisition meant, the warrants basically doubled in a day. But there are some real lessons here.

  • First, try to avoid warrants in companies that play in commodities. Commodities can swing to the upside putting you quickly in the money, but it can obviously go the other way too.
  • Second, pigs get slaughtered. When you’re up a lot on a warrant or call option, just get out. I should have sold all my warrants and just bought UNVR’s stock if I thought it was still good (even though in hindsight I know it has underperformed now).
  • Third, don’t be duped by a long time to expiry. “I have so much time until these warrants expire… a lot can happen”. Yes, a lot CAN happen. Including a global pandemic.  I should have instead said, “you know what, I think Nexeo / Univar will build a lot of value over 3 years and I should just ride the equity”

Why Hasn’t Autozone Stock Re-rated with Other Pandemic Winners? $AZO #COVID19

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I just did a post where I evaluated my holdings of Apple following its recent surge, which looks to be a quite big move for the US’s largest public company. One thing I didn’t really discuss in that post was that Apple may have re-rated recently due to perception of it being a pandemic winner. If your sales have held in well this year, or even increased, you are viewed as either defensive or on a continued growth trek. In turn, your stock has rocketed up.

Here’s a list of stocks that I would say fall into that category. I can’t include them all, but you get the point:

FB Chart

FB data by YCharts

The S&P total return is ~5.5% at this point in the year.  Home Depot is doing well because housing is holding in well, and the pandemic is causing people to reinvest in their homes. Same store sales were up ~24%+! No wonder Home Depot has surged.

The same is true for other retailers, such as Target or Wal-mart, which despite possibly missing the back-to-school shopping season (which is big bucks) they are reporting some of the best comps in years.

So let me take off some of the true high fliers and compare Autozone stock and other auto part retailers to these names.
FB Chart

FB data by YCharts

If you’re having trouble finding the auto retailers on this busy chart – they’re all at the bottom!

This is odd to me. O’Reilly reported +16% SSS comps for Q2 and a 57% increase in net income. Advance Autoparts has a different fiscal period, but they reported 58% increase in EPS on a 7.5% SSS comp.

Why is that? There are several reasons.

  1. In recessions, people keep their car longer and do more work themselves. See my post on AutoZone for some discussion on their comps after the 2008 financial crisis.
  2. After reaching about 7 years in age, cars tend to need more work. The average age of a car in the car parc today is around 12 years
  3. Retailers focused on cleaning products and other pandemic needs consumers would need and auto parts took the back seat. It’s likely that the pure-plays auto stores picked up share

So I fully expect Autozone’s sales to benefit when they report at the end of September. And if this current crisis persists, then their increased comps will likely persist as well.

I’ve been watching street estimates for Autozone. They still sit around pre-pandemic levels. My guess is AZO handily beats these estimates, though admittedly there are some tough comps (believe there were additional selling days in the prior year).

Look, I’m a long term holder at the end of the day and I wouldn’t recommend trading around a  quarter. All I’m saying is you have (i) a high ROIC business that (ii) historically has returned every dollar of FCF to shareholders that (iii) is probably benefiting in COVID where (iv) estimates might be too low. I like the set up.

Should you hold Apple stock here? $AAPL

Reading Time: 6 minutes

I’m an Apple shareholder and the meteoric rise in Apple stock has me questioning whether I should hold on or move on.

One problem with this, and why I don’t think Buffett will sell, is opportunity cost. Selling Apple stock to hold cash isn’t really a great option right now. Yes, yes, cash has option value in itself, but the only reason why I’d be selling is my scant perception is that Apple stock has gone up really quickly and so maybe it is “fully valued” at this point.

Personally, whenever I sell a really high quality company due to valuation – that ends up being a bad decision.

Think about what this would mean right now if you count yourself as someone who is a “traditional” value investor (i.e. someone who looks for low P/E stocks) – this means selling a really high quality company to probably go invest in a lower quality company trading at a low multiple. Not a particularly great trade-off in my view. That multiple is probably low because of low growth, low ROIC, high cyclicality or some other reason.

If I stay on this broad topic, I also think the market is rarely so grossly wrong on a blue chip, top component of the S&P500. Yes, we have had instances in the past where everything just gets overbid in a mania (a la, the tech bubble where even GE was trading at 50x earnings). Also there are plenty of cases where the leaders of the S&P at  the start of the decade aren’t there by the end of it. But largely the market is a pretty good weighing mechanism.

In sum, tech bubbles are rare. But the stock market being a pretty good estimator of company value? Not so rare.  One reason why active management is so hard.

Frankly, if you’re reading this and thinking the stock has gone up too much, you’re probably anchoring to when Apple stock traded at 14x EPS and now trades for 30x without really much thought as to why 14x was right / wrong and 30x is wrong / right.


Ok, back to my view on Apple’s valuation. What do we need to believe here?

First, I like to go a look at Apple’s estimates for some expectations investing. I see that consensus is expecting the company to generate ~$75-$80BN of FCF for 2022-2023.

So let’s say they generate $77.5BN and using a short-hand 20x multiple of FCF (or 5% FCF yield), that’s a $1.5 trillion valuation. Wow. That would be a $363 pre-split price compared to $487 price at the time of writing. What else am I missing?

Well cash on hand is something else. Apple has $93BN of cash & equivalents (another $22/share) plus long-term investments (which is essentially Apple’s hedge fund) which is another $100BN (or $23/share). Yes, Apple has $100BN of debt, but they could have $0 of cash, be 2.0x levered and still be high investment grade. I’m not concerned whatsoever about that debt, so don’t view it as unfair to net the cash.

Add the cash together with the value of the business and you get $363 + $45 of cash, for a quick-hand value of $408 / share. Now, all of this was a very cursory estimate. For example, I change my math from a 5% FCF yield to 4% FCF yield, the price I get is $498/share. At this point, it’s hard for me to say that 4% is any worse than 5%.

I traditionally say my equity IRR over the long-term will approximate the FCF yield + the LT growth rate in the stock. So a 10% FCF yield in a low-to-no growth industrial will probably be around the same return as a 5% grower at 5% FCF yield (as long as you have long-term confidence in the FCF ). Can Apple compound earnings at 6% from here for a 10% total return? Maybe not, but all they need to do is 3% for a 7% return. And for an annuity-like business like Apple, that is as Larry David would say – pretty, pretty… pretty good.

Right or wrong, in a world of 0% interest rates, consistent cash generators will be bid up pretty high. Here’s a quick sample of companies and their FCF yields for 2021. Apple comparatively doesn’t seem crazy.


Of course, there are some other drivers for Apple recently.

The core driver for Apple here has to be the upgrade “super cycle.”

    • If you’ve been invested in Apple for a long time, you understand the stock goes through cycles and I’ve written about it in the past. It’s frankly frustrating, but the function of short-termism.
    • To rehash it, Apple’s sales go through a lull as a large proportion of users upgrade every 2 years or so. So there are big booms and then lulls and the Y/Y comps don’t look great.
    • That’s also when people hark back to the good ol’ days of Steve Jobs and say Apple can’t innovate anymore (right, like the iPad, Watch, AirPods and software moves show the lack of innovation…).
    • The story really has always been the same, but bears repeating. You don’t buy iPhone for the phone, you buy it for iOS. It has always been a software company and they continuously expand on that (AirPods being the latest hardware move, health monitoring seeming to be the next).
    • Heading into a new phone cycle is when people start to realize better results are on the come (and I have no back up, but I would say leading up to the launch is great, after launch Apple then starts to underperform again as people typically expect them to announce a new UFO and are disappointed when it’s just a new phone everyone will buy).
    • ANYWAY – the next upgrade cycle could be huge, especially if Apple is able to launch it with 5G with meaningful new speeds. I’ve seen estimates saying that nearly 40% of iPhone users are due for an upgrade. That would be a huge boon to Apple.

Apple’s bundling could create a “services” powerhouse

    • First you need to understand how profitable “service” business are. Apple has 64% GAAP gross profit margins for services. I assume its CAC must also be much lower than other players, again because of the iOS ecosystem
    • Services is growing well and could become a higher and higher % of earnings over time. Services gross profit has nearly doubled since the end of FY2017 and is now $31BN.
    • Something else to think about: Apple grew Service sales by nearly 15% Y/Y in the latest Q. But COGS only rose by 5%. That’s big operating leverage.
    • These recurring revenue streams are not only valued highly, but has a positive feedback loop in keeping everyone in Apple’s ecosystem!
    • Apple next launched “bundling” most recently and this could be a game changer.
    • Apple reported on its Q3 call that, “we now have over 550 million paid subscriptions across the services on our platform, up 130 million from a year ago. With this momentum, we remain confident to reach our increased target of 600 million paid subscriptions before the end of calendar 2020”
    • Those are huge figures in comparison to a Netflix and Spotify which have 193MM and 140MM paid subscribers, respectively.
    • Again, I view this as classic Apple. They changed the game with iTunes and made it tough to compete. The same could be true with whatever they bundle.
    • Apple could bundle Music, TV+, News, Cloud storage, as well as new growth arenas like gaming and perhaps health monitoring. Charging a low price for all these services / month might mean low profit at first, but huge scale benefits. You also drive your competitors down.

Bundle services… Bundle hardware

    • What if you were offered $100 off a product bundle if you bought a watch, iPhone/Mac, and AirPods together? Look, I only have 2 out of the 3, but I’d be tempted.
    • Apple wins despite the discount because they move more hardware and increase adoption of the iOS ecosystem
    • Then they push the software bundle. Rinse and repeat.

Each of these items make it a bit more exciting to be an Apple shareholder, but more importantly, they may be things that current estimates don’t factor in yet. In other words, especially the latter two items here, there could be further upside surprises.

Nothing I can see jumps off the page to me to say, “holy cow – GTFO.” So I’m staying put.

Is it Time to Buy Cruise Stocks? Pt 2 $CCL $NCLH $RCL #COVID19

Reading Time: 8 minutes

It’s always a pleasure to share these pages with like-minded people. Today’s post was written by a very smart, very diligent guy — who just so happens to be a long-time friend of mine. During COVID-19, he’s scrutinized one of the most “center of the storm” sectors: the cruise line stocks . I was thrilled when he accepted the invitation to share his thoughts and work on the blog. I know you will be, too.


With almost five months of lockdown behind us, logic would tell most that the outlook for the cruise industry has gone from bad to worse. As you’d expect, most cruise lines have spent the last few months pulling together survival dollars for what could be the worst storm to hit while not sailing. But even in the darkest of times, could there be light at the end of this tunnel? Article #Is it Time to Buy Cruise Stocks? Intrinsic Value Impact from Coronavirus identified what I think is a very counterintuitive point – even when some of the most horrific events have hit cruise lines, their demand has been remarkably resilient in the following year(s).

For those who like bottom lines up front – I think CCL probably has best chance of survival, and a lot of assumptions used in this analysis are pretty conservative. This is a big gamble, and I’m not expecting any potential pay off until 2022 at the earliest (although reckless day traders may create some wild ups and downs along the way), but the payoff could be exceptional.

The case for strong demand recovery

So what happened after a massive pandemic hit, confining people to their homes in March and April…see Carnival swamped with cruise bookings after announcing August return or What pandemic? Carnival Cruise bookings soar 600% for August trips. When CCL announced cruise returns in August 2020, bookings shot up, with the spike reflecting a 200% increase in bookings over the same period in the prior year.

Who are these people making these bookings? Will these spikes in demand last? Even if there is strong demand, won’t governmental restriction stymie all chances for recovery here?

All great questions. The first two cannot really be answered definitively. If the past can be used to determine the future, it is fair to say that cruise demand has historically come back strong even after disastrous events. Further, many people seem to be of the mindset that Covid is here to stay, and are accepting its spread while hoping for a low death rate (whether this is an ethically acceptable position is an entirely different discussion and far out of the scope of this article’s analysis).

The last question is probably the most important here – where does governmental restriction fit in all of this? In my opinion, it is the most important final step in the recovery. If demand is there, but governments forbid sailing, then demand becomes irrelevant. Your guess is as good as mine here, but demand assumptions for the rest of this analysis are:

  1. No more cruises will sail in 2020 – only revenue accumulated was Q1’20, with a complete halt to revenue for the remainder of the year.
  2. Demand in 2021 is 50% of what it was in 2019.
  3. 2022 resembles normal operations – EBITDA falls somewhere between the min and max annual EBITDA generated in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

After diving into the financials of CCL, RCL, and NCLH (“The Big 3”), it looks like these three cruise lines have the ability to survive into next summer with no cruise activity. While some of these may be able to last longer, failure to resume sailing in the peak season for cruises (i.e. the North American summer months) would likely be a final dagger for these businesses. CCL looks best poised to survive of the three, so more of the below will focus on them. Note that as of date of this post, cruises in the US will not resume until October for The Big 3; however, some European cruises are still scheduled to go ahead as planned.

Survival – what does liquidity look like over the next year?

Let’s start by getting perspective on what debt looked like on the balance sheet for The Big 3 pre-Covid. Looking at Net Debt to EBITDA and FCF as a % of Debt (avoid using equity in this kind of assessment, as companies can mess with it via share repurchases, dividends, etc):

CCL looks best capitalized coming into this mess, and has traded cheaper in comparison to the other two – EV/EBITDA ratio is ~20% less than the other two at the end of 2019.

As you’d expect, over the last few months The Big 3 have moved quickly to build up liquidity to survive this next year, drawing down revolvers and issuing new debt. Some of the debt issued at CCL and NCLH are convertible notes, so assuming these companies recover I think it’s important to factor dilution into any analysis that you run. NCLH also took in additional equity investment from both the public and via PIPE from L Catterton.

Now let’s put together some pro formas for CCL. What does a projected income statement look like?

As expected, these next couple years look rough, but I’d like to reemphasize that 2020 assumes no additional revenue, and 2021 assumes 50% demand – unless Covid goes from bad to worse than we could have ever expected, these feel conservative. This analysis also does not bake in the benefit of reduced fuel prices that may stick around these next couple years.

Where does this get my cashflows?

Using rough numbers here, analysis projects that $7.3bn of financing is needed over next couple years ($3bn in 2020 and $4.3bn in 2021). The good news (depending on how you look at it) is CCL pulled $3bn from revolvers in March and issued $5.75bn of new debt in April (some of which is convertible, and should be assumed converted if CCL recovers), meaning they’ve already achieved the financing needed based on these projections. My above cashflow projections also assumes all treasury shares are reissued at approx. 80% loss, and per the below, 62.5m of the 190m shares have already been reissued.

Other comments on cashflow:

  • 2020 sales of shipsCCL plans to sell 13 ships in 2020 (approx. 10% of its fleet). I assumed $150m sale price per ship in my above cashflow estimates. I don’t think this is actually that alarming, as (1) these ships are probably older, and needed to go at some point anyway (who wants to ride an old cruise ship), and (2) 10% of fleet isn’t that bad given that they are the biggest cruise operator with ~45% market share. Competitors have also done and/or will probably do the same.
  • Cash outlays for ship orders- I’ve assumed that commitments for new ships will be wiped out over next few years. I think it’s fair to assume that CCL is probably under contract to take them, but in this environment they’ll probably tell the shipbuilders to pound sand the next couple years. It’s probably in the interest of the shipbuilders to suck it up as well if they do think CCL can recover – way worse trying to get paid if CCL gets forced into bankruptcy.
  • Credit vs cash refunds- so far, approx. 60% of customers have elected a to receive a future cruise credit rather than cash refund for their postponed cruises – definitely a positive sign for pent up demand

  • Breakeven point- the CCL Q220 earnings call transcript may be worth a read. David Bernstein (CCL CFO and CAO) notes that the breakeven point on an individual ship basis is generally 30-50% of capacity. He estimates that they’d need to run approx. 25 ships for cashflow to breakeven (approx. 25% of fleet). I view this as validation that my analysis is conservative, as I’m anticipating a cash shortfall in 2021 with 50% demand.
  • Debt covenants- I found some of the debt covenant specifics for RCL (net debt to capital ratio, fixed charge coverage ratio, min networth, etc); wasn’t able to find these for CCL and NCLH, but it looks pretty clear that The Big 3 will struggle to meet these. But similar to view on new ship orders, creditors will probably be willing to grant leniency if there is a light at the end of the tunnel – most lenders want to avoid seizure of assets and bankruptcy proceedings.

Other Considerations

  • Bankruptcy- while I definitely see potential upside in an investment in CCL, it is definitely risky. If Covid continues to unfold in a horrific way into 2021, The Big 3 could be pushed into bankruptcies. But important to consider impact to CCL if RCL and/or NCLH go down while it stays afloat. RCL is the 2nd biggest behind CCL – if it files Chapter 11 and is relieved of some of its debt payments, it could suddenly have the opportunity to compete more aggressively. If RCL drives its prices down, it could force CCL to follow, driving CCL into bankruptcy. Takeaway here is that bad news for the other two could ironically lead to bad news for CCL.
  • NCLH differentiation- while NCLH’s balance sheet looked bad going into Covid, two points that I think help its survival case:
    • (1) It historically focused on cruise routes that the other two were not focused on. See snipit from 2019 10-k:

    • (2) its ships are significantly smaller (~30+%) than RCL and CCL. This could come in handy if governments put official caps on the number of people that can be on a cruise at a given time (regardless of ship size).
  • Cruises sailing in 2020analysis assumes no cruises again until 2021, but if some of these carry on (unlikely in the US, but maybe more likely in Europe), it will be very important to track the outcomes and potential regulatory responses.

Bottom line

If betting on the survival and recovery of cruise lines is something that you’re interested in, I think CCL is the best bet. Back in March the market priced death into the Big 3 stock prices, and stock prices of these at the time of this post are not far from those March prices. Applying the lowest PE ratio from the last 10 years (excluding Covid) to this analysis’ EPS estimate shows a sizable ROI is in the cards. By no means should you view this as a real way to project the stock price, but point is that there’s a lot of potential upside here if you can handle the risk.

Caveat emptor. Hope you find this helpful!