Macau casino stocks in Hong Kong took a drubbing overnight, continuing weakness shown by US parents in Wall Street trading yesterday. The US stocks are down again as I’m writing this.
Analysts had been estimating (guessing/hoping is probably a more accurate description) that the amount lost by gamblers during the current Lunar New Year month would come in at slightly more than half what they left at the tables during the comparable period last year. With the month nearly gone, data so far indicate that the actuals will come in at somewhat less than half the 2014 take. Hence the selloff.
If there’s a positive story for the Macau casinos–and I think there is a strong one–it has little to do with whether this month is good or not.
Current weakness is the result of a campaign by Beijing that’s now deep in its second year. The idea is to restore faith in the Communist Party by discouraging flashy over-the-top consumption by the politically well-connected. It’s also aimed at quashing corrupt local government get-rich-quick schemes involving crazy real estate developments and unneeded, heavily polluting basic industry projects. This two-pronged attack, which has had a negative effect on high-roller gambling in Macau, has lasted much longer than anyone, myself included, had predicted. The February-to-date casino results seem to indicate that Beijing has not yet taken its foot off the regulatory accelerator.
The positive case has three parts:
–the development of the Cotai Strip along Las Vegas lines is creating a new, more lucrative, less volatile gambling market in Macau. It’s for middle-class Chinese visitors who want a gambling vacation that also includes resort dining and entertainment. This business has been expanding very rapidly. It now accounts for about three-quarters of the SAR’s gambling profits. Non-gambling attractions in Macau are still in their profit childhood. In pre-recession Las Vegas, however, resort profit equaled that of the casinos. So there’s plenty of room for expansion
–at some point–who know when–the current anti-corruption campaign will abate and high-roller business in Macau will begin to stabilize and then gradually expand again. Beijing’s crackdown began in 2013 but only started to cause serious high-roller attrition in Macau in late spring last year. So positive year-on-year earnings comparisons are unlikely before autumn.
–the stocks are reasonably priced–cheap, if you believe the first two points.
The Macau casino stocks are now what I would call a value idea–meaning that we have a good sense of what will happen but are pretty much at sea about when. High dividend yields argue that we’re gin paid to wait.
One technical note: the stocks hit relative low points about a month ago and have come back to those lows over the past few days. It would be a sign that they may be finally bottoming if they can stay above the month-ago lows as the weak February results are officially announced. Technicians would regard a breakdown below these lows would be a good thing in the US, but bad news in Hong Kong.