The Investment Column: Stay on board Carnival and ride the waves

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The Independent Online

Carnival Corporation has sailed through some choppy waters in the past year. It has navigated its way past ships stuck in port (a world tour scheduled for January failed to leave British waters), multimillion-dollar rises in its fuel bill and, most recently, the US government's decision to commandeer three ships to help with the clean-up operation in New Orleans.

But the world's biggest cruise ship operator has taken such potential icebergs in its stride and confirmed yesterday it was on track to hit the $2.70-a-share earnings target it set itself at the start of 2005. This means that despite finding an extra $170m (£94m) to pay for fuel, its earnings per share are due to increase by 20 per cent.

It managed to stay on course during its third quarter, thanks to an 11 per cent increase in revenues to $3.61bn. This was due to a 5.2 per cent increase in capacity and an unexpectedly strong 6.2 per cent jump in net revenues yields (the amount of money it gets from each passenger). Or, put simply, more Yanks, Brits and Germans were prepared to pay more to go on more cruises. And once on board, they were happy to spend more on treats - from extra excursions to extra grub in one of the many additional restaurants. In addition, overall industry capacity rose only by 5 or 6 per cent, which was less than the rise in demand.

Although three of Carnival's ships are out of action, housing people displaced by Hurricane Katrina, the group promised yesterday the impact would be "earnings neutral" - that is, the US government has promised to compensate it for the money that the ships would have made.

The potential cloud on the horizon remains the direction fuel prices are heading next year. Micky Arison, Carnival's chairman and chief executive, warned its fuel bill could rise by an extra $200m if they stay high. But he still thinks the group will grow its revenue yields. Carnival's shares rose 75p to 2983p. This makes them pricey, but we tipped them in January and, given the prospects for growth, think investors should stay on board.

Steady Albemarle is worth a hold

The poor will always be with us, so that perhaps is why it is good to be in the pawnbroking business such as Albemarle & Bond. Full-year pre-tax profits were up 13 per cent at £5.66m. Turnover advanced 7 per cent, with all areas of the business performing well.

Pawnbroking, which accounts for half the business, saw pawn loans grow 11 per cent and its cheque-cashing operation expand 9 per cent (a service for those who cannot wait for a cheque to clear).

According to the chairman Charles Nicolson, the performance should remain steady. "It's not rocket science, it's just jolly good old plod," he said.

Albemarle & Bond's combined retail sales of second-hand and new jewellery matched last year's figures, which the company said was a good performance, given the difficult trading conditions that have been experienced by other jewellery retailers.

The company has 62 branches, having added five new cheque-clearing outlets. It is spending money on refitting some branches and it plans to expand significantly over the next few years, to about 100 branches.

Albemarle & Bond, which was founded in 1986, has seen a steady rise in its shares over the past five years to stand at 135.5p, which seems to be up with events.

Hold on to the stock.

Burren's prospects are worth backing

Burren Energy is a mid-cap oil and gas group that put out some pretty spectacular results yesterday. Turnover was up 166 per cent to $168m (£93m), for the first half, and pre-tax profits rocketed 388 per cent to $97.2m.

And the company was able to put the City's mind at rest about recent changes to the ownership of its Mboundi oilfield in Congo - the company had seemed to sell the country's government 10 per cent of its holding at a knock-down price. Burren was able to argue yesterday that it got something in return.

Burren's other main asset is an oilfield (with gas potential) in Turkmenistan. It has a mixture of exploration and producing interests. The half-year results were driven by a 48 per cent rise in the price it got for its oil in the period, with a 90 per cent rise in production levels.

Burren has booked reserves of 246 million barrels but it is hoping to add a further 500 million through its exploration drilling programme between now and the end of next year.

It has less developed interests in India and Egypt but carried political risk with its concentration on the unstable countries of Congo and Turkmenistan. Even with that in mind, the shares, at 794p, are worth having.

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