Macau gambling crackdown?

The Financial Timesamong others, ran stories yesterday attributing the sharp, across the board fall in Macau casino shares in Hong Kong Tuesday to the detention by Chinese authorities of several junket operators who organize groups of high roller gamblers travelling from the mainland to the SAR to gamble.  Government inquiries have apparently also been made to the casinos themselves for information about the structure and betting behavior of some junkets.

To my mind, it’s not yet clear what’s going on.  The possible government concerns, as I see them, might be:

–displays of affluence in a socialist economy.  This has never bothered Beijing before, so I doubt this is the issue now, other than as a formalistic expression of official disapproval.

–possibly illegal flow of foreign exchange out of China.  This is a perennial problem for any country with foreign exchange controls.  The time-honored method of moving funds abroad, however, is through corporate transfer pricing.  But there’s no evidence of a wider crackdown, so I don’t think this is the issue, either.

–money laundering.  This was a notorious problem while Macau was a Portuguese colony, and while the former casino incombent had a monopoly on legal gambling.  Money of dubious origin enters the casino and leaves as legal, taxable gambling winnings–with the casino serving much the same function that urban parking lots sometimes serve on a smaller scale.

This is a serious issue.  In my view, eliminating criminal influence in the Macau casino industry is the prime reason the Macau SAR granted gambling concessions to Wynn Resorts and Galaxy Entertainment.  I’d be surprised and disappointed if Galaxy, Sands or Wynn were involved in money laundering.  Authorities have apparently contacted all three for information, however.

–defining political have-nots.  It seems that a lot, if not all, of the regulatory attention has been focused on associates of the disgraced former head of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, whom Beijing regarded as a threat to the stability of the Communist Party.

my take:  my guess is that what’s going on is some combination of #3 and #4 and that any investigation will end up having little negative impact, if any, on Wynn Macau, Sands China or Galaxy.  But I have no hard facts to base this view on.  So my reaction is to trim my positions–the Hong Kong stocks have been very strong performers recently–and wait for further clarification.

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.

Wynn Resorts’ 3Q12: Macau (HK:1128) flat, Las Vegas picking up, big dividend

the 3Q12 earnings report

WYNN reported earnings for 3Q12 after the market close on October 24th.

Revenues came in at $1.2985 billion, flat with $1.298billion collected during 3Q11.  Net income was $149.2 million, 12.5% higher than the $132.6 million posted in the comparable period last year.  Due to a sharp reduction in share count from 125.9 million to 100.9 million, eps showed a much sharper 41% increase, at $1.48 vs $1.05. (The shrinkage in outstanding shares is due to the forced cancellation of 24.5 million shares formerly owned by Aruze USA.)

Results exceeded the Wall Street analysts’ consensus eps estimate of $1.34.

WYNN also announced a special dividend of $7.50 a share to accompany the regular 4Q payout of $.50.  In addition, in its conference call the company said it would increase the regular dividend to $1/share, starting in 1Q13.


Property EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest Taxes Depreciation and Amortization) for the quarter was $402.6 million, vs $381.1 million in 3Q11.  That breaks out into $292.2 million achieved in Macau and $110.4 million in Las Vegas.


If we subtract out from Macau results the portion owned by the investing public (including me) rather than Wynn Resorts, Macau accounts for about 2/3 of WYNN’s profits.  Over the past few years, Macau has also accounted for virtually all the earnings growth WYNN has achieved.

Wynn Macau earnings are now flattish, however, for several reasons:

–an economy-related slowdown in Chinese VIP gambling

–the opening of new casinos by competitors.  If nothing else, the novelty factor draws business to the newest venues, at least for a while

–Wynn Macau is at, or near, the capacity limits of its current physical plant.

Yes, the Macau government has given 1128 permission to build a new casino in Cotai, but that’s not scheduled to open until Chinese New Year in 2016.

In the meantime, we should expect no better than growth in line with the market for the Wynn properties in Macau.  But they will continue to generate huge free cash flow for shareholders and large management fees for the parent.

Las Vegas

EBITDA in Las Vegas is up by $25.2 million, or almost 30%, vs. 3Q11.

Most of the increase comes in casino operations.  About half the casino gain is from a return of the house “win” percentage to normal from last year’s unlucky lows.  The rest is genuine improvement in the amount of money wagered in the Wynn/Encore complex.  That’s a really good sign.

the dividend

As I mentioned yesterday, WYNN is in the unusual position of generating very high free cash flows, while having no current investment projects that need them.  WYNN is certainly not going to expand in Las Vegas, which is still plagued with substantial overcapacity.  The new Cotai project won’t need a lot of money soon, and it’s going to be financed mostly with debt, in any event.  Also, in today’s ultra-low interest rate environment, it makes little sense to repay cheap borrowings (arguably, one should be adding to debt, not subtracting).

So WYNN is electing to distribute much of its excess cash to shareholders.  1128 will likely soon follow suit.

buy or sell?

I hold both WYNN and 1128.   …LVS, too.  I think LVS is the cheapest of the three, and the only one I’d buy at today’s prices.

But I’m happy to hold the other two.  The Macau gambling market will likely be considerably better next year than this, although lack of capacity will be somewhat of a drag on 1128.  Las Vegas, where WYNN has considerably more operating leverage, will continue to make progress, I think.  And, as the cliché goes, with considerable dividend income I’m being paid to wait for earnings to accelerate.

2Q12 for Wynn Resorts (WYNN) and Wynn Macau (HK:1128)

the results

After the New York close on July 17th, WYNN reported its financial results for 2Q12.  Revenue for WYNN, which includes 100% of the revenue of Wynn Macau, was $1.253 billion vs. $1.374 billion in the comparable period of 2011.  Earnings were $139.0 million vs. $200.8 million in last year’s 2Q (before subtracting a $107.5 million charge for the present value of a planned charitable contribution by Wynn Macau to the university there).

EPS were $1.38 in 2Q12, compared with $1.60 in 2Q11.  The reason the eps comparison looks better than the net profit comparison is that the forced sale of Aruze USA’s 24.5 million shares in WYNN to the company reduced the number of shares outstanding to by about 25% 101.0 million.

The immediate reaction of the market to the results was relief that the numbers weren’t weaker than they were.  Of course, on the other hand, it’s not that long ago that WYNN was closing in on the $140 mark, as Wynn Macau received permission to build a new casino in Cotai.


Las Vegas

Business is up around 5% year on year, both in the gambling and non-gambling parts of WYNN’s operations.

The hotel/entertainment/shopping gain is straightforward.  It’s not so easy to see the improvement on the gambling side, however.  The industry accounting convention is not to measure revenue by the amount that gamblers bet–which was up around 5% yoy for Wynn in 2Q12–but rather by the share of that amount that the casino wins from them.

For slot machine play, which consists of huge numbers of small transactions, the odds almost always even out during a given quarter.  It’s not the same for table games, particularly for the high-roller segment of the market that WYNN specializes in.  The typical table game “win” percentage for Wynn is about 23%.  But in the June quarter of 2012 that figure was a mere 15%.  And the comparison is against 2Q11, when the win percentage was a whopping 27.6%.  The negative win comparison for high stakes baccarat was even worse.

I don’t think this is anything to worry about.  It’s just a fact of life.  Over the coming quarters, the win percentage will doubtless return to normal–and results will look more favorable than they do now.  The bottom line, however, is that the trend for WYNN’s Las Vegas operations is up.


Wynn Macau’s results are flattish.  That’s mostly because, for the moment, that market has run out of steam.

Two reasons:

–slowdown in the Chinese economy has translated into a flattening out in business for Macau casinos from mainland gamblers, and

–at the same time, casino floor space in Macau has expanded significantly as operators begin to develop Cotai.

The result is increasing, price-driven competition for junket operators to steer customers to a given casino.  Either customers are offered larger credit lines, or junket operators are offered higher commissions.  Wynn Macau’s position is strong enough that it isn’t compelled to participate.  However, until the economic environment in China improves, Wynn Macau will be doing well simply to maintain the current level of operating profit.

my take

WYNN is the strongest operator in an industry that I think has attractive investment characteristics.  On the other hand, I think LVS is the cheaper stock. And, although I have no desire to sell either WYNN or LVS (I have switched a little money from the former to the latter, however), I think all the Macau-related stocks will mark time until the Chinese market begins to pick up again–probably in early next year.

Macau gaming in February 2012: important signs of market strength

Macau gaming results

Yesterday, the Macao Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau released its report of Gross Revenue from Games of Fortune for the SAR’s casinos during the month of February.  Results were:

* 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%

Source: Macau Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau

The monthly figures require a little interpretation, since the important New Year holiday, which prompts a surge in casino visits, fell in January this year vs. February in 2011.  Sure, bears were apparently saying, January looks good.  But that’s only because of the holiday.  Wait until you see how ugly February will be.

Now February is in.  Despite the difficult comparison, gambling revenue grew 22%+.  Looking year to date, and thereby avoiding the issue of the timing of the New Year holiday, the Macau market is growing at 28%+, almost 3x the rate the gloomier analysts in Hong Kong had been predicting.

stock market reaction

The biggest stock market beneficiaries of the Macau government announcement have been Wynn Resorts in the US and Wynn Macau in Hong Kong.  This, despite the uncertainty–and the negative publicity–stemming from the break between Steve Wynn and Kazuo Okada.

The market moves do make some sense.  1128 is the main source of WYNN’s profits, so what’s good for the subsidiary is good for the parent.  And the continuing rapid growth of Macau suggests for 1128 that:

–regulators may approve its application to build in new casino in Cotai more quickly, since possible oversupply of gambling space is less of a worry, and

–the clear appeal of rivals just-opened casinos–just to see them, if nothing else–won’t mean that 1128 will struggle to find customers of its own.


Earlier today, WYNN filed an 8k saying that it had, in effect, received Macau government approval for a proposed new casino to be built in Cotai.  WYNN almost immediately retracted the filing, saying only that it had been made in error.  The stock, which had risen about 7%, was suspended for almost two hours for dissemination of the retraction news.  It hit a new intraday high after reopening but is sagging a bit as I’m writing this.

My guess is that the retracted 8k will prove to be factually correct, but that WYNN’s agent jumped the gun on making the announcement.  If so, what’s most striking to me would be how quickly the approval would have come after Kazuo Okada was removed from the WYNN share register.  Of course, it’s also possible that the approval has been prompted by the absence of the market slowdown Deutsche Bank analysts have been predicting for some time.  It could be that the timing is just coincidence, but I’m not sure that’s the right way to roll.