Middle East Cruise News

Saudi Arabia buys stake in cruise giant Carnival as it seeks to become cruise destination

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund purchased an 8.2% stake in Carnival Corporation on Monday, sending the company stock on the New York Stock Exchange to more than $10, a 30% increase compared to Friday.

The minority stake amounts to US $430-million and signals investor confidence in the cruise company, whose stock has been battered by the Coronavirus pandemic, dropping more than 80% compared to six months ago.

Carnival Legend at sea

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If Carnival is able to return to its previous highs, PIF’s 43.5-million shares will be worth more than $2.1-billion.

This is the Gulf fund’s latest high-profile investment after previous bets on companies such as Tesla and Uber, however, its 2016 bet on ride-hailing group Uber is still trading well below the US $62.5-billion it invested.

The jump in Carnival Corporation’s share price sent rival companies Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line up as well. The three companies are the only publicly-traded cruise brands, and all have been hit hard by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The virus has killed passengers aboard cruise ships and left cruise lines pleading with various countries to be allowed to dock and disembark passengers. The unprecedented disruption caused by the virus forced all the world’s major cruise lines to suspend operations.

The suspensions, announced in March, where initially until mid-April, but have now been extended to mid-May, and may be extended yet further as COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise around the world, especially in the major cruise markets of Europe and the US.

Saudi Arabia is hoping to revamp itself as a cruise destination

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The shutdown is costing Carnival Corporation, which operates 105 ships, and is the largest operator in the world by a huge margin, at least US $1-billion per month.

The cruise company has raised a total of US $6.25-billion in debt and equity from investors to shore up its cash needs for the next few months.

A person close to the PIF deal told the Financial Times that “any investor should look at global opportunities — the lessons learnt from 2008, buy undervalued assets.”

He added that the PIF would be buying more assets in the coming weeks. “You will see a lot of acquisitions in the next few weeks. This is a good opportunity.”

But, he added that the “main effort right now should be geared to the domestic [economy],” suggesting that Saudi Arabia might use its stake in Carnival Corporation to buoy its ambitious cruise destination plans.

No cruise ships currently call at any Saudi Arabian port, but the country has recently relaxed its visa regulations and announced plans to target growth in its nascent tourism sector, with the cruise sector signaled out as a major focus.

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