Macau gambling developments, December 2013–a longer view

The Macau Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau published its monthly “Gross Revenue from Games of Fortune” report (I love the names) a couple of days ago.  Here it is:

Monthly Gross Revenue from Games of Fortune in 2013 and 2012
Monthly Gross Revenue Accumulated Gross Revenue
2013 2012 Variance 2013 2012 Variance
Jan 26,864 25,040 +7.3% 26,864 25,040 +7.3%
Feb 27,084 24,286 +11.5% 53,948 49,325 +9.4%
Mar 31,336 24,989 +25.4% 85,284 74,314 +14.8%
Apr 28,305 25,003 +13.2% 113,589 99,317 +14.4%
May 29,589 26,078 +13.5% 143,178 125,395 +14.2%
Jun 28,269 23,334 +21.1% 171,447 148,729 +15.3%
Jul 29,485 24,579 +20.0% 200,932 173,308 +15.9%
Aug 30,737 26,136 +17.6% 231,670 199,444 +16.2%
Sept 28,963 23,866 +21.4% 260,632 223,310 +16.7%
Oct 36,477 27,700 +31.7% 297,109 251,011 +18.4%
Nov 30,179 24,882 +21.3% 327,288 275,893 +18.6%

Source: Macau DICJ.   Figures in millions of MOP.

Another very healthy month, in what has been for the Hong Kong consensus a surprisingly good year.  My only caution would be against extrapolating from the current year-on-year comparisons.  Yes, current figures are likely to trend upward in 2014 (by 1o%+).  But May through November of 2012 was an unusually weak period for Macau, as a result of overall global economic softness + uncertainty surrounding the once-in-a-decade change in Communist Party leadership on the mainland.  Comparisons will get much tougher, starting with December.

a pat on the back for Macau

In just over a decade the SAR has created a booming Las Vegas-style gambling market from pretty much nothing.  While doing so, it has also severely weakened the relative power and influence of the previous gaming monopolist, the Ho family, with its purported connections to the Chinese underworld.  By carefully controlling capacity additions and by banning cutthroat price competition, the industry has enjoyed almost uninterrupted prosperity.  So too the SAR>

where to from here?

This question has two aspects to it:

1.  how does the Macau gambling market evolve?  and

2.  how do the Macau gambling companies evolve?

My thoughts:

1.  The next several years are pretty much set.

New capacity is being added; new transportation links are being forced that will make Macau accessible to increasingly large portions of the mainland.  All-but-professional super rich VIP baccarat players are being supplemented by middle class tourists.  This latter development is in its infancy.

Three years down the road, Macau gambling revenue will be at least a third higher than now.  Spending on hotels/restaurants/shows/shopping?    …make up a number.  Double what it is now?

What then?  My guess is that if becoming the Las Vegas of 2000 was Macau’s aspiration, it’s fervent desire today is not to become the Las Vegas of 2013, a city mired in overcapacity.  I think the SAR will take its foot off the gaming pedal and (mixing my metaphors) begin to steer the economy in a non-gaming tourist direction.

I’m not saying the party is over–far from it–but maybe we’re eating the main course now.

2.  Casinos are gigantic cash flow generation machines.  Left to their own devices, they’d just plow that money back in to new capacity in Macau.  But so far they haven’t been allowed to give in to these impulses, nor will the future be any different, in my view.  What do they do with the money they’re going to be awash in.

Some of it will go to permitted new expansion in Macau. Some will go to repay debt–although with borrowing costs close to zero, no one is going to be in a great rush to pre-pay borrowings.

Some may end up in real estate development nearby (Hengqin, anyone?).  But real estate alone doesn’t make use of the casino operator’s special skills.

Dividends?   …probably so, but especially if the companies with US parents can do so in a tax-efficient way.

However, I think the next serious turn of the wheel will see at least some Macau players using their companies’ cash flow to build casinos elsewhere.  This could be a very interesting investment development, with Macau casino firms turning into multinational Asian gambling conglomerates.  Galaxy Entertainment, for example is already talking about this openly, with Japan as its first target.

This may well also be what Wynn ends up doing.  The Las Vegas Sands case is more complicated, since that firm has two Asian subsidiaries, one in Macau and one in Singapore.

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