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Royal Caribbean 'Embarrassed' By Miscue, CEO Still 'Excited'

By Maxwell Murphy Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES NEW YORK -(Dow Jones)- Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCL) executives on Thursday said they were embarrassed by mistakes in accounting for interest expense that helped drive full-year guidance lower, but the chief executive said he was "more encouraged than ever" by its near-term prospects. "It still looks like this will be one of the best years in our history," Chief Executive Richard Fain said on a Thursday conference call to discuss second-quarter results. The No. 2 cruise operator to Carnival Corp. (CCL) reported results Wednesday evening, ahead of its prior plan to report Thursday morning, and provided so many new details that one analyst called it a "kitchen sink" press release. Shares of Royal Caribbean were recently off 8.2% at $32.82 apiece, having rebounded slightly from session lows. Carnival was down 1.9% at $34.32 per share. The interest-expense accounting error related to the amortization of certain financing fees, and caused the revision of some prior results and lower guidance for the rest of the year. The revision is a noncash item, and Fain said the team that made the error also found it and quickly reported it. Chief Financial Officer Brian Rice later said on the call that the company has enhanced its internal controls to prevent something like this happening in the future, and called it a "human error." Nonetheless, both he and Fain professed embarrassment over the error. Fain said its overall passenger yields will only fall 2% from its forecast from the beginning of the year, and he rhetorically asked what other industry could experience "such a plethora of challenges in one year" and only see such a small miss of expectations. He noted the tragedy in Japan, the mass murder in Norway and the political unrest in several countries bordering the Mediterranean, unrest that was worse than the company had expected and caused it to lower guidance further than the impact of the accounting error would have alone. Royal Caribbean also reinstated, at 10 cents a quarter, a dividend that it suspended due to economic turmoil in 2008. -By Maxwell Murphy, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2171;

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