Warning: Despite the wonderful lift in value that the 2009 market rally has given to investor portfolios and retirement accounts, it may not be enough to convince anyone to spend money on non-discretionary splurges anytime soon. However, if 2010 remains a decent market environment, many folks may feel they deserve some much-needed time to forget about everything related to stock markets and enjoy life. Following is a list of companies ready to provide such people with ways to unwind, relax and recharge.

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All Aboard
Believe it or not, cruises tend to attract vacationers during recessionary times. That's because cruises, with their all-inclusive packages, are often significantly cheaper vacation alternatives. Folks don't have to worry about paying for hotel rooms, rental cars or three meals a day. And with many cruise options costing as little as a few hundred dollars per person, that's a compelling proposition, especially during stressful (remember 2008) environments. And if the economy continues to improve, cruises may become even more attractive as a way for folks to vacation and not deplete savings.

Still Choppy Seas
The major publicly traded cruise companies include Carnival (NYSE: CCL) and Royal Caribbean (NYSE: RCL). In terms of valuation, Carnival seems the better choice. It trades at 12 times forward earnings and boasts average operating margins of 17% versus 18 times forward earnings and 8% operating margins for Royal. Nevertheless, cruise lines are very discretionary, and they are hurting during this recession as well, although they are faring better than most alternatives. Carnival's recent quarter showed a 48% drop in profit primarily due to ultra-deep discounts to lure recession-hurt travelers. Yet the company remains optimistic as the pent-up demand for travel will lure more people to the attractiveness of cruise options. Currently, lower fuel prices are helping offset the profit decline, but a fuel price increase is always a risk factor to be considered.

Speaking of cruises, Steiner Leisure (Nasdaq: STNR) offers spa services to cruise companies and resort customers worldwide. The company serves approximately 130 cruise ships and 50 resort spas worldwide. It's a debt-free business currently fetching 14 times earnings. Steiner is the ultra-discretionary stock and certainly not a bargain investment, but it is a neat little business that has plenty of room to grow.

Tread Carefully
All discretionary service companies should be analyzed very carefully during any market environment, as they always face immense competitive headwinds. Instead of vacations, many consumers are now embracing "stay-cations" where a night out at movie theater chain Carmike Cinemas (Nasdaq: CKEC) along with dinner is now a substitute for a weekend getaway. In some shape or form, people will find a way to devote a little time to pleasure, but the choices are far and wide. (For more, see Top 9 Vacation Destinations For Wall Street Geeks.)

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Tickers in this Article: RCL, CCL, STNR, CKEC

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