Forecast bleak for cruise operator

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 12:00am

Star Cruises stands to lose an estimated US$3.8 million if it repositions two of its ships away from the lucrative Hong Kong and China markets for up to four months, says HSBC Securities.

The brokerage expects the company to report a net loss of about US$8 million for this year to December compared with a profit of US$84 million last year.

The bleak forecast was due mainly to the toll the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak is taking on Star Cruises' Asian operation, HSBC said.

The company's North America business was also being affected by the Iraq war, it said.

On Monday, Star Cruises said it had cancelled scheduled SuperStar Virgo cruises for this month and next and those of SuperStar Leo until August after two suspected cases of Sars were discovered among crew members last week.

Both ships sail between Hong Kong, China and other Southeast Asian ports. It said it would announce replacement itineraries for the two ships soon.

Shares in Star Cruises yesterday fell 2.14 per cent to close at HK$1.37. The share price has fallen 50.44 per cent in the past three months.

HSBC said Star Cruises' decision to cancel the itineraries had been prompted by a drop in both ships' load factors to below 50 per cent in the past week.

The brokerage believed the new itineraries could reposition the two ships in Japan or Australia.

Analysts said Star Cruises' Asian operation accounted for about 55 per cent of its turnover. But they said the company's cash flow remained strong, with enough capital to finance its expansion for the next two years.

Graphic: star16gbz