the Macau gambling market contracted by 3.7% in June!

The recently released monthly report from Macau’s Gambling Information and Coordination Bureau (DICJ) showed that aggregate casino win (the amount gamblers lost in the casinos last month) amounted to MOP 27.2 billion, or about US$3.4 billion.  That’s a 3.7% year-on-year drop, the first red figure I can remember for the SAR, and the only one on the DICJ website, which contains comparisons going back to 2010.

Yes, the figures might have been slightly in the black if not for the World Cup keeping potential gamblers glued to their TV sets at home rather than being at the casino tables.  And it has been clear that the yoy comparisons would get progressively tougher as 2014 unfolded.  That’s because 2013 results got stronger as the VIP market returned to normal after the mainland Chinese Communist Party leadership transition.

There are two more important reasons for the flattening out of the Macau gambling market, however.  Both are temporary, I think.

–the continuing anti-corruption crackdown by Beijing, which has VIP gamblers adopting a lower profile, and

–lack of junket operator credit (junket operators typically borrow, at rates of 1%+ per month, funds that they advance to VIPs), in the wake of the apparent disappearance of a prominent organizer with US$1 billion – US$1.3 billion of his company’s funds.  This has understandably made lenders reluctant to back any junket operator as fully as before.

Interestingly, the Macau gambling stocks, which have been very weak performers since early this year, rallied on the DICJ report.

What to do?

My guess is that the VIP segment of the Macau market will be at best flat for the rest of the year. That will make it hard for the aggregate gambling market in the SAR to show significant advances.  However, the real story of Macau is below the surface.  It’s the rapid shift away from VIPs and toward the mass affluent that’s now going on.  The latter, which already account for the bulk of the SAR’s win, are also big spenders in the casinos’ food, entertainment and shopping venues (remember, non-gambling activities can account for half a casino’s income, and they’re just getting started in Macau).

The Hong Kong-traded casino stocks, which have been very weak performers since early in the year, seem to me to have already discounted the negative developments I’ve described above.

In my view, the worst hurt by the VIP slowdown will be the traditional casinos run by the Ho family.  The least affected will be Sands China, Wynn Macau and Galaxy Entertainment (I own Galaxy and the parents of the two others).

I’m not rushing to add to my exposure (although I think I may have missed the bottom in Wynn Macau a couple of weeks ago), but i have no desire to sell, either.

 

 

Macau gambling, May 2014

The day before yesterday, the Macau Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ) posted the total monthly gambling “win” (the amount lost by gamblers) for the SAR’s casinos during May.  The results were below analysts’ expectations, causing a selloff in the US gambling stocks with Macau presence, and a minor negative ripple in the Hong Kong-traded Macau casino stocks themselves.

The year-to-date DICJ results are:

Monthly Gross Revenue from Games of Fortune in 2014 and 2013
Monthly Gross Revenue Accumulated Gross Revenue
2014 2013 Variance 2014 2013 Variance
Jan 28,739 26,864 +7.0% 28,739 26,864 +7.0%
Feb 38,007 27,084 +40.3% 66,746 53,948 +23.7%
Mar 35,453 31,336 +13.1% 102,199 85,284 +19.8%
Apr 31,318 28,305 +10.6% 133,517 113,589 +17.5%
May 32,354 29,589 +9.3% 165,871 143,178 +15.8%

Source: Macau Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau

What’s going on?

First of all, and least important, the market had been expecting a 10%+ year-on-year gain in aggregate casino win, based on weekly reports of business results provided by the casinos.  The falloff during the last few days of the month is most likely a random variation in the casino luck factor, one that will eventually be reversed.

More generally, the so-so rate of yoy gain in win is the result of two opposing factors.  On the one hand, increases is betting by mainland high-rollers, the almost exclusive focus of the Macau market over the past decade, have slowed to a crawl.  On the other, affluent mass-market gambling is rising sharply.  Mass market gamblers bet smaller amounts, but lose a much higher percentage of the amount bet than VIPs (who are more or less professional gamblers).  Mass market patrons want entertainment, not necessarily gambling profits, so they don’t watch what they’re doing so closely.  They also spend a lot more on things like restaurants, shows and shopping.  We’ll know more about non-gambling when June financial reports are released by the casinos, but non-gambling profits have been rising sharply from a small base.  It’s important to remember that in the salad days of Las Vegas, non-gambling amounted to half of casino industry profits.  So growth in Macau has potentially a long way to grow.

The overall Macau market is facing capacity constraints that will only begin to easy next year.  In a sense, the current lull in new capacity additions is ending up being luckily timed, since it coincides with a slowdown in the VIP market.

All in all, it seems to me that the March-May gains in casino win are more indicative of what the rest of the year will be like than January-February.

The related stocks have sold off by about 20%–more than I would have expected–in a flat Hong Kong market over the past few months.  Stocks like Sands China and Galaxy Entertainment, which have little VIP exposure and lots of mass market, have declined at least as much as Wynn Macau, which is in the opposite position.

I find the Macau stocks hard to figure out.  It’s not their profit potential, it’s the way they trade in the Hong Kong market.  The current situation of little capacity addition was well-known a year ago.  The VIP slowdown could equally well have been anticipated.  I think the mass market and non-gambling profit development has been much more positive this year than the consensus expected.  In other words, the negatives are no worse, and the positives are a lot better.  Yet the stocks went up last year and have sold off so far in 2014.

My take?  I’m in this for the long haul.  I sold my Wynn Macau quite a while ago and have been looking for a reentry point.  Not yet, though.  I continue to own Galaxy Entertainment and would own Sands China as well, if it were easier for a US citizen to buy.  I’m looking to add to my holdings, but am in no rush.

Macau gambling, October 2013

The Macau Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ) recently released its tally of aggregate gambling winnings of the Chinese SAR’s casinos during the holiday month of October.  The results, in MOP millions, are as follows:

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%

Source: Macau DICJ.

 

The monthly “win” is an all-time record for Macau, and, in my view, stunningly good.

Two factors appear to be at work:

–the expansion of casino capacity and the parallel development of non-gambling entertainment (at the insistence of the Macau government) in the Cotai region is broadening the appeal of Macau as a tourist destination and drawing in a younger, “merely” affluent crowd in large numbers, and

–the upturn in the Chinese economy is prompting the return of increasing numbers of the enormously wealthy VIP baccarat players who have until now formed the backbone of Macau’s casino industry.

 

What I find interesting is that the Hong Kong-traded Macau casino stocks have been selling off on this good news.  This is partly, I think, because the stocks have been extremely good performers over the first three quarters of the year, as it became clearer that the Chinese economy was beginning to rebound.  The fact that more speculative and less skillful operators in the Macau market have been leading the pack had already been suggesting that the recent run was getting a bit long in the tooth.  In addition, however, I think the pullback we are seeing also is in line with an emerging mood of caution I see building in stock markets around the world.

I don’t think anything is wrong, either with Macau gambling or with the strongest operators.  A while ago, I trimmed my casino holdings a bit, based solely on position size.  Others may be doing the same, only timing their move a bit better than I did.  I expect that as Macau continues to exhibit strong growth in gambling win over the coming months, the stocks will take up their outperforming ways again, with Galaxy Entertainment, Sands China and possibly Wynn Macau in the vanguard.

Macau casinos, August 2013

Over the Labor Day weekend, the Macau Gaming Inspection and coordination Bureau (DICJ) released its monthly report on the aggregate amount won by the casinos in the SAR during the month.  Here are the figures:

* 1 HKD = 1.03MOP (Unit:MOP million )
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%

Source: Macau DICJ

The figures are obviously good.  the MOP 30.7 billion achieved in August surpasses all but the win from last March, a holiday month.  They’re 4% better than the results for July.  They’re also up 17.6% year on year.  August of last year may have been negatively affected both by weather and by high rollers beginning to pull in their horns as the anti- conspicuous consumption attitude of the new Communist Party leadership began to make itself known.

What’s most interesting–and encouraging–are company comments that VIP gamblers are beginning to return in higher numbers to Macau as they feel more comfortable about what the Party’s anti-corruption stance and dislike of lavish displays of wealth actually means for them.  Apparently, gambling, in itself, isn’t a bad thing.  In addition, the tide of merely affluent gamblers–who might gamble US$10,000 on a visit, rather than US$1 million–is continuing to rise strongly.

The real shortage element at present is casino and hotel capacity to receive customers.  The biggest beneficiaries of market growth are those who are opening new space in Cotai.  To my mind, this means Galaxy Entertainment and Sands China (I own shares of  Galaxy and of Sands China’s parent, Las Vegas Sands.  (Both Fidelity and Schwab maintain Americans aren’t permitted to buy Sands China in Hong Kong and refuse to transact in the name.   I’ve asked LVS several times for an explanation–their investor relations people are clueless, however.  I find that disturbing for a big company, but not to the degree that I want to sell LVS.)

One’s instinct in any attractive market is to look for laggards–companies that may not be the best-positioned, but which are significantly cheaper than the leaders.  Buy them, wait for a run and trade into the leaders, the strategy goes.  In theory this sounds good.  And Hong Kongers have no trouble executing it among the Macau gambling stocks.  As for me, some of the laggards are controlled by people I don’t trust.  So I’d rather stick with the names I have (I also own Wynn Macau and WYNN).

the Macau gambling market, December 2012

the monthly DICJ report

Yesterday, the Macau Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ is the Portuguese acronym) released monthly results for December for the casino  gambling market in the SAR.  The figures were substantially higher than consensus expectations.  This is presumably the reason why the US-based gambling companies with significant Macau presence, LVS, WYNN and MGM, were up so sharply in New York trading.

The amount won from gamblers by the Macau casinos last month was MOP 28.2 billion, or about US$3.5 billion.  That’s an all-time high for the market there.  It’s also up 19.6% year on year, the strongest rate of increase since last April.  (By the way, these “win” figures suggest Macau visitors laid down a mind-boggling US$70 billion in casino bets during December.)

As you can see from the figures at the bottom of this post, the monthly numbers don’t yet show a clear upward trend.  But to my mind they do strongly suggest that the worst for the market is behind it.

it’s the economy that’s important, not just casinos

This isn’t just about casinos and the penchant for wealthy mainland Chinese citizens to gamble.  A 13% month on month jump in gambling activity–last year, when China was beginning to worry about economic slowdown, November and December were flat–likely means that the domestic economy is starting to perk up.  Purchasing Manager statistics from the usually reliable HSBC suggest the same thing.

It may be that stimulus measures from Beijing are beginning to work.  I also think that it’s no accident that the Macau uptick comes the month after new leadership for the Chinese Communist Party has been named.  I’m willing to believe that there’s something to the talk about a crackdown on corruption emanating from Beijing.  But I also believe that it will be limited to scrutiny of the activity of a very small number of families highly plugged in to the previous regime.  Certainly, Macau visitors don’t appear to be be concerned about displaying their wealth.  Another confirming bit of evidence: Hong Kong-based Chow Tai Fook Jewellery (HK: 1929) is up by 35% since Halloween, while TIF is down by 6% over the same span.

The bottom line:  We’ll know more in the next month or two, but the Macau gambling market may be a good indicator that Chinese economic activity is increasing. That should be good for any global company with direct or indirect exposure.  Good for the casino companies, too, although I think the story for them over the next year or two will be the development of their non-casino entertainment businesses.

The DICJ figures:

* 1 HKD = 1.03MOP (Unit:MOP million )
Monthly Gross Revenue from Games of Fortune in 2012 and 2011
Monthly Gross Revenue Accumulated Gross Revenue
2012 2011 Variance 2012 2011 Variance
Jan 25,040 18,571 +34.8% 25,040 18,571 +34.8%
Feb 24,286 19,863 +22.3% 49,325 38,434 +28.3%
Mar 24,989 20,087 +24.4% 74,314 58,521 +27.0%
Apr 25,003 20,507 +21.9% 99,317 79,028 +25.7%
May 26,078 24,306 +7.3% 125,395 103,334 +21.3%
Jun 23,334 20,792 +12.2% 148,729 124,126 +19.8%
Jul 24,579 24,212 +1.5% 173,308 148,337 +16.8%
Aug 26,136 24,769 +5.5% 199,444 173,106 +15.2%
Sept 23,866 21,244 +12.3% 223,310 194,350 +14.9%
Oct 27,700 26,851 +3.2% 251,011 221,200 +13.5%
Nov 24,882 23,058 +7.9% 275,893 244,258 +13.0%
Dec 28,245 23,608 +19.6% 304,139 267,867 +13.5%

Source: Macau DICJ

Macau gambling: October 2012 results = an all-time record high

Last week, the Macau Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau released its report on “Monthly Gross Revenue from Games of Fortune” for October 2012.  Here are the figures:

* 1 HKD = 1.03MOP (Unit:MOP million )
Monthly Gross Revenue from Games of Fortune in 2012 and 2011
Monthly Gross Revenue Accumulated Gross Revenue
2012 2011 Variance 2012 2011 Variance
Jan 25,040 18,571 +34.8% 25,040 18,571 +34.8%
Feb 24,286 19,863 +22.3% 49,325 38,434 +28.3%
Mar 24,989 20,087 +24.4% 74,314 58,521 +27.0%
Apr 25,003 20,507 +21.9% 99,317 79,028 +25.7%
May 26,078 24,306 +7.3% 125,395 103,334 +21.3%
Jun 23,334 20,792 +12.2% 148,729 124,126 +19.8%
Jul 24,579 24,212 +1.5% 173,308 148,337 +16.8%
Aug 26,136 24,769 +5.5% 199,444 173,106 +15.2%
Sept 23,866 21,244 +12.3% 223,310 194,350 +14.9%
Oct 27,700 26,851 +3.2% 251,011 221,200 +13.5%
Source: Macau DICJ

Golden Week, an important celebratory and vacation period in China, comes in October.  So the month typically marks the yearly high point for casino revenues.  So, too, it appears, in 2012.  In fact, last month was the all-time high water mark for casino “win” (i.e., the amount lost by bettors, which is what the casinos count as revenue).

The October figure can be taken in two ways:

1. the positive viewpoint:  It’s a staggeringly high amount.  Macau casinos in the aggregate took in $3.5 billion during the month.  This would imply that gamblers put down bets totaling $70 billion+ over the period.  That’s roughly the GDP of either Indonesia or the Netherlands.  It’s also an all-time record for Macau, achieved during a period of austerity in China.

2.  the negative:  The year on year comparisons of Macau’s gambling revenue appear to have bottomed in July, with a +1.5% gain.  That was followed by +5.5% and +12.3% in the two succeeding months.  One might have hoped that the accelerating trend would continue in October, thereby providing more evidence that a market rebound is in progress.  It didn’t.  The yoy comparison of +3.2% is the weakest in recent memory, save July.

From an investment point of view, I find it interesting that the market has chosen #1, the bullish interpretation.  All the casino stocks spiked up on publication of the figures.  Not only that, but other stocks tied to a rebound in Chinese high-end consumer spending, like Chow Tai Fook Jewellery, did as well.

At the very least, the DICJ figures from May onward appear to be saying that the Macau gambling market is bouncing along the bottom.  Stock price action seems to imply not only Hong Kong market belief that the situation won’t deteriorate from the current level, but that a period of stronger growth is imminent.  If so, the biggest beneficiaries will be companies like Galaxy Entertainment and Sands China (I own shares in Galaxy and in LVS), which have recently opened new casinos in Cotai.

Macau gaming in March 2012: an okay, but not eye-popping, month

March results

On Monday April 2, the Macau Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau published on its website monthly results for March in the SAR.  Here they are:

* 1 HKD = 1.03MOP (Unit:MOP million )
Monthly Gross Revenue from Games of Fortune in 2012 and 2011
Monthly Gross Revenue Accumulated Gross Revenue
2012 2011 Variance 2012 2011 Variance
Jan 25,040 18,571 +34.8% 25,040 18,571 +34.8%
Feb 24,286 19,863 +22.3% 49,325 38,434 +28.3%
Mar 24,989 20,087 +24.4% 74,314 58,521 +27.0%

Source: Macau DICJ (Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau)

what they say to me

Yes, it’s the strongest non-holiday month ever in Macau.  Only last October (with Golden Week) and this January (New Year) had higher monthly win for the casino industry.

On the other hand, we don’t see anything like the almost manic surge in the size of the market that we experienced throughout 2011.  We may see some upward bounce in the April and May figures, as the new Las Vegas Sands casino on Cotai opens this month.

There isn’t enough evidence yet to draw firm conclusions.  However, if the right way to read the current figures is that the market is plateauing for the moment around the MOP 25 billion level (this is my guess), year on year growth comparisons should begin to narrow as the second half starts.

Although, again, there’s no clear evidence, I’m reading this potential growth slowdown to be the result of economic slowdown on the mainland.  If so, as the current expansionary measures Beijing is enacting bear fruit, I’d expect the growth rate to begin to expand again.  Timing is the only question.

It’s possible, though, that the plateauing I see is being induced by the leading casinos having reached full capacity–in which case, second-choice casinos should enjoy their day in the sun over the coming months.  And the Macau government should accelerate the pace of its approval of new casino permits.

One other point:  prior to the mammoth overcapacity the Las Vegas casinos by aggressive new construction during the past five years, only about half of that industry’s profits came from gambling.  The rest was food, lodging and entertainment.  One would expect that at least the American-owned casinos would follow the same development model in Macau–a move the Macau government is strongly encouraging.

Over the next five years, then, one could expect the gambling market to grow by at least the rate of Chinese GDP, or by close to 50%, and the industry’s profits to expand by a minimum of another 50%–and maybe much more–as non-gambling businesses expand.

Over the next five months, on the other hand it’s less clear how much there will be to cheer about.  I don’t see any need to sell the stocks;  I just don’t think they’ll run away to the upside.