Global cruise giant Carnival Corporation has reported a decline in fourth quarter profits but says booking levels are strong going into the peak January wave booking period.

Net income for the three months to November was down to $217 million from $248 million in the same period last year. Annual net income was $1.912 billion against $1.978 billion in the previous 12 months to November.

Fuel costs in the 12 months rose to $2,193 billion from $1.622 billion while revenues were up to $15.793 billion from $14.469 billion.

Describing the full year as “encouraging,” chairman and chief executive Micky Arison, said: “Our North American brands performed well, achieving an almost four per cent revenue yield increase, while our European, Australian and Asian brand yields were in line with the prior year despite having been significantly impacted by the geo-political unrest in the Middle east and North Africa.

“Higher revenue yields partially offset a 32% increase in fuel prices, which reduced earnings by $535 million.”

Booking levels for the first three quarters of 2012 taken in the last six weeks are running “well ahead” of the same time last year but at lower prices.

Cumulative advance bookings for next year are at slightly higher prices with slightly lower occupancies, the company said.

Looking forward, Arison said: “Our base of business for 2012 is solid and we are experiencing strong booking volumes leading into wave season, our heaviest booking period which begins in January.

“Despite the uncertain economic environment, we anticipate a continued slow recovery in yields in 2012 driven by ongoing consumer recognition that our cruises provide an exceptional value.”

The parent company of brands such as P&O Cruises, Cunard and Princess Cruises remains focused on strategic growth through the addition of two to three ships a year, according to Arison.

“We estimate our cash from operations will approach $4 billion in 2012, while our capital investment commitment will be $2.6 billion,” he said.

Three new ships are due for delivery in 2012 – Costa Fascinosa in April plus AIDAmar and Carnival Breeze in May. P&O Cruises Australia has sold the Pacific Sun for an undisclosed sum which will leave the fleet in July 2012.