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Royal earnings call eagerly awaited for first window on wave season

Analysts expect RCL's Q4 to exceed EPS guidance of 35 cents to 40 cents
The first official word on how the 2015 wave season is going is expected Thursday when Royal Caribbean gives guidance in reporting its fourth quarter and full-year 2014 earnings. Analysts expect the No. 2 cruise operator to exceed its Q4 projection for a profit in the range of 35 cents to 40 cents per share, with the consensus of 42 cents up from Royal's 23 cents the prior year, and pricing checks by William Blair and UBS Investment Research suggest a mixed picture for the critical wave booking period.

'Following a strong first few months of the fourth quarter, we believe pricing weakened somewhat in December; however, the early innings of the wave season so far in January seem to be stronger than last year,' William Blair said in a note.

William Blair analyst Sharon Zackfia sees the Caribbean as remaining 'challenging in the near term, which is likely to somewhat constrain first-quarter net yields.' Conversely, she added, 'early reads on both Alaska and Europe seem encouraging and point to stronger yield trends through the spring and summer.'

At UBS, the brokerage's recent pricing checks of more than 7,000 sailings indicate a 'slight uptick in pricing over the past three weeks, with Q4 last-minute pricing having held up, while 2015 has been fairly stable for the six largest North American cruise lines and two of largest European lines.'

UBS analyst Robin Farley hasn't seen much price movement yet in these first few weeks of the wave season, but said distribution channel checks suggest Caribbean pricing after Q1 should firm up.

'But we do hear concerns that lower demand from European passengers could mean more inventory that gets targeted to North American passengers.' Overall, she summed up: 'Neutral color so far against a backdrop of good macro outlook.'