Britain's Saga asks for debt relief as casts doubt on 2020 holidays

(Reuters) - British over-50s holidays and insurance specialist Saga SAGA.L warned on Thursday it could suspend all cruises and vacations until 2021 under a worst case coronavirus scenario and said it was asking for a year's debt holiday.

Saga, whose shares have fallen nearly 70% in 2020, said the future was “uncertain” as it ditched its dividend after posting a 39% fall in profit for the year to the end of January.

Saga, which has suspended its cruises until May, also said it was looking to halt debt payments.

“The Group will apply for a waiver of the covenants in the ship debt and is likely to apply for a debt holiday for the period to 31 March 2021 under a package of proposals that are being put together for the cruise industry,” Saga said.

Shares in Saga, one of several cruise operators forced to halt all sailings by the coronavirus pandemic, were down 4.1% to 16.92 pence at 0957 GMT after saying its 2019-20 results would include a 370 million pound ($460 million) impairment charge.

As countries across the world impose clampdowns on movement and activities to contain the damage caused by the coronavirus outbreak, Saga’s suspension date is seen as optimistic.

“With the way things are going in terms of lockdowns, the firm might have to push back the date to resume service,” CMC Markets analyst David Madden wrote.

Outbreaks on a handful of cruises, and subsequent quarantines, coupled with the industry’s focus on elderly customers more at risk, have hit the industry hard.

Four of Carnival Corp's CCL.N cruise lines said in late March they would extend the suspension of all voyages by a month to May, while Royal Caribbean Cruises RCL.N has suspended the voyages of its fleet globally.

Saga expects revenue for the full year to be lower by around 65% for tour operations and cruises, if the cruise business was to be suspended for six months.

This fall in revenue would mean 15%-20% lower earnings for tour operations and a 55%-60% cut in profit for its cruise segment, the company said.

The owner of Saga Holidays, Saga Cruises, Titan and Destinology said it has drawn down 50 million pounds of a revolving credit facility and had 92 million pounds in cash resources available at the end of March.

Its larger U.S. rivals have also announced plans to shore up liquidity, with Carnival planning to raise about $6 billion in debt and equity and Royal Caribbean Cruises borrowing $2.2 billion under a new financing facility.

Saga ditched its dividend for the year as it said underlying pretax profit fell by 39% to 109.9 million pounds due to competition in the insurance market.

Its audited results will be published on April 9, later than initially planned after Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority advised companies to delay their earnings.

Reporting by Muvija M in Bengaluru; Editing by Vinay Dwivedi and Alexander Smith