CPPIB down $1B on ill-timed Royal Caribbean Cruises investment, filings suggest

The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board appears to be sitting on a $1-billion loss on its investment in Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., after shares of the cruise line collapsed in March following the outbreak of COVID-19.

Canada’s largest pension plan, which has more than $420 billion in assets under management, must disclose its U.S. equity holdings on a quarterly basis to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Earlier this year, it indicated that it held 8,102,492 shares in the cruise line, valued at a total of US$1.08 billion, as of Dec. 31, 2019, making it the fund’s seventh-largest U.S. equity position at that time.

A regulatory filing made Wednesday indicated that as of March 31, CPPIB still held almost an identical number of shares in the Miami-based cruise company, and that the overall value had plunged to US$260.6 million. Using the exchange rates on March 31, the decline of nearly US$820 million would translate to well over $1 billion CAD.

Because the filings only disclose end-of-quarter holdings, and do not account for trades within the quarter, a precise gain or loss could not be determined. CPPIB declined to comment on the investment.

Shares of cruse lines such as Royal Caribbean Cruises were among the earliest and hardest hit when the COVID-19 pandemic forced an economic shutdown earlier this year. Multiple ships became de-facto petri dishes for the virus, with passengers falling ill in droves. Investors quickly dumped the stocks. Royal Caribbean Cruises shares, which had reached a 52-week high of US$135.32, lost more than 85 per cent of their value between mid-January and mid-March.

CPPIB appears to have become increasingly bullish on the cruise line over the course of 2019. On Dec. 31, 2018, it held only US$2 million worth of stock in the company. That quickly rose to an excess of US$300 million over the next three quarters — a decent position for the pension fund, but still well below the top names in its portfolio.

Then in the final quarter of 2019, as shares rallied nearly 23 per cent, CPPIB appears to have nearly tripled the number of shares it owned in the stock, making it one of its top equity holdings just months before the outbreak.

After trading as low as US$19.25, Royal Caribbean Cruises shares have since rebounded somewhat, briefly trading near US$50, before falling off again. They closed Wednesday at US$34.53.

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