Under stress, NCL Holdings hit a liquidity grand slam

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Arnie Weissmann (left) and Frank Del Rio at Travel Weekly's CruiseWorld in 2018.
Arnie Weissmann (left) and Frank Del Rio at Travel Weekly's CruiseWorld in 2018. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

In the first of two parts of a wide-ranging interview with Travel Weekly editor in chief Arnie Weissmann, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio gave the back story on closing a $2.4 billion round in tough times. Part 2: Del Rio on relaunching and the importance of travel advisors in cruising’s recovery. 

On March 13, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio learned that to stem the spread of Covid-19 on cruise ships, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had issued a no-sail order, effectively halting cruising out of U.S. ports.

No cruising, no revenue. No revenue, no assurance of the liquidity needed to survive for an unknowable amount of time. “I knew our world was going to change,” Del Rio told Travel Weekly in an interview on Thursday.

That set Del Rio on a journey from potential ruin to bountiful liquidity, a journey he sees as evidence of the resiliency of cruising and NCLH’s unique position in the cruising ecosystem.

On Wednesday, Del Rio finished what would be considered a remarkable round of funding even during the best of times. His underwriter, Goldman Sachs, told him it was the first simultaneous “quad” it had seen: releasing a private placement memorandum and at the same time announcing three different kinds of public capital. And, as icing on the cake of the $2.23 billion initially announced, an oversubscription in each tranche triggered what Wall Street calls a “greenshoe” event, allowing additional shares to be sold, bringing the total above $2.4 billion.

What should have been an unqualified grand slam was temporarily dampened when some investors and media noticed two sentences in a 59-page public filing on Tuesday which seemed to disclose “substantial doubt” about the company’s ability to continue “as a going concern,” and another warning that, should investment not be forthcoming, “it may be necessary for us to reorganize our company in its entirety, including through bankruptcy proceedings.”

The language, Del Rio said, was a “mandatory, technical accounting reporting requirement that our auditor, Price Waterhouse, was required to issue in conjunction with the offering memorandum.” Though the details the following day about the success of the offering would render the point moot, NCL stock dropped 22% the day before the full scope of the investments were announced.

The $2.4 billion, combined with $1.1 billion in cash the company already had, “probably gives us the biggest liquidity cushion -- the longest runway -- of any company in the cruise space,” Del Rio said. “I challenge you to find another company in any industry that can say that they can withstand a 100% cessation of operations with zero revenue for more than 18 months.”

When this is all over, Del Rio asserts, “Norwegian will be one of the survivors, one of the success stories. This was truly a team effort. Yesterday I addressed them all, and it was a very emotional moment because what was being saved was a great institution. We invented the cruise industry more than 50 years ago and I would be damned if, under my watch, that was going to change.”

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