Carnival ousts CEO as profits disappoint

People watch from their balconies and hold up signs aboard the Carnival Triumph after it was towed to the cruise terminal in Mobile, Ala., Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. The ship with more than 4,200 passengers and crew members has been idled for nearly a week in the Gulf of Mexico following an engine room fire. (AP Photo/AL.com, Mike Brantley) AP Photo/AL.com, Mike Brantley

NEW YORK Carnival Corp., beset by mechanical problems on their cruise ships that blossomed into public relations disasters, replaced its CEO today. The news was included in the company's earnings release, in which it reported a $41 million second-quarter profit thanks to lower fuel costs and the timing of some administrative expenses.

Micky Arison, who has been CEO since 1979 and is the son of Carnival co-founder Ted Arison, is being replaced by Arnold W. Donald, who has served on the company's board for the past 12 years. Arison will continue to serve as chairman of the board.

The profit was nearly triple the $14 million the world's largest cruise company earned during same period last year, a quarter which it suffered from bad bets on fuel price derivatives.

Earnings totaled of 5 cents per share this quarter, up from 2 cents a share last year at this time. Revenue fell 1.7 percent to $3.48 billion. The financial results fell slightly short of Wall Street's expectations. Analysts polled by FactSet had expected earnings of 6 cents per share on revenue of $3.56 billion.

Shares of Carnival fell 11 cents to $32.88 in morning trading.

Arison led the company through an aggressive expansion that included the acquisition of several brands, including Holland America, Costa Cruises, Cunard and Seabourn. In 2003, he oversaw a merger between Carnival Corp. and P&O Princess Cruises. Today, Carnival runs cruises under 10 brands.

However, Arison came under fire during Carnival's bad publicity earlier in the year when a string of its cruise ships suffered through mechanical problems and fires. The most dramatic of them was the Carnival Triumph where passengers were stranded at sea for five days as toilets backed up and air conditioners failed. There were media reports of raw sewage seeping through walls and carpets.

Arison, who also owns the Miami Heat basketball team, took some heat of his own for attending a game while the crisis was ongoing.

Donald founded and led Merisant, a company whose products include sweetener brands Equal and Canderel. He also held multiple senior management roles at Monsanto over the course of 20-plus years, including president of the company's consumer and nutrition sector and president of its agricultural sector.

The Triumph nightmare was followed up with problems on three other Carnival ships: The Elation, Dream and Legend - all which made big headlines.

None of that helped restore confidence in vacationers who are still wary after the January 2012 sinking of the Costa Concordia, also owned by Carnival.

In its earnings release Tuesday, Carnival said that advance bookings for the rest of 2013 are running behind last year's levels, even at lower prices. Bookings on its namesake Carnival line are particularly weak.

Arison said in a statement that Carnival is working to market the "truly exceptional vacation values" that cruises offer through travel agents and other industry partners.

"We believe these initiatives, combined with slower supply growth, will lead to increased yields," he said. "In addition, we remain focused on reducing our fuel dependence. By year end, we will achieve a 23 percent cumulative reduction in fuel consumption since 2005 and expect our research and development efforts in fuel saving technologies to continue to bear fruit."

Those fuel-savings efforts seem to be paying off. In the quarter that ended May 31, the company saw a 14-percent drop in its fuel bill. The company spent $555 million on fuel, down from $645 million during the same quarter last year. Cruise companies, airlines and other large consumers of fuel typically make bets, called derivatives, on the price of oil to hedge again any sudden spikes. Last year, Carnival lost $145 million in the second quarter on such bets. This year, that loss was narrowed to $31 million.

During the second quarter, the company took delivery of Princess Cruises' 3,560-passenger Royal Princess, the first of a new class of ships for Princess. Additionally, Carnival Sunshine entered service in May following a $155 million modernization.

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