October Macau gambling results

Just at midnight, New York time, the Macau Gaming Coordination and Inspection Bureau (DICJ) posted its report of aggregate casino win for the SAR during October.  The win, that is, the amount gamblers lost in the SAR, was MOP 28.0 billion (US$3.5 billion).  That’s up by 9.8% month-on-month, but down 23.2% year-on-year.

The result had been widely anticipated–and heavily publicized by the companies themselves, the government of the SAR and Hong Kong-based securities analysts.  Consensus estimates of the decline seem to me to have centered around -21% yoy.

The Hong Kong casino stocks were up a couple of percent in midday trading today when the DICJ report appeared.  Despite the wide publicity, the stocks immediately lost all their morning gains.  They drifted lower throughout the afternoon, ending down by around 3% for the day.

How could  stocks drop 5% on news that had arguably so fully anticipated?

I don’t think it’s that win was down 23% instead of 21%.  Both are equally weak.  More likely, in my view, is that short-term traders used the DICJ report to take profits after the stocks’ 15% gains in recent weeks.  It’s also possible that the market hadn’t grasped the current Macau casino situation as fully as I had thought.  It could be, as well, that the discounting mechanism for stocks nowadays in Hong Kong works more like the bond market in the US (reacting to strongly to current news as it hits the media) than the stock market.  (I doubt this last, but it has been a while since I devoted a serious chunk of my time to studying the Hong Kong market.)

my take

I’m not in a huge rush to buy, partly because I already have a pretty full weighting, both through the Hong Kong stocks and through WYNN and LVS.

My working hypothesis is that cyclical lows–10%+ below today’s close–have already been made.

Could the stocks drop another 5% from here–i.e., get halfway back to the lows of September?   …maybe, especially since the market upturn I anticipate will likely be in the spring or summer of 2015.  But it would take at least that much to get me interested again.  For now, I’m content to watch.

overnight rally in Macau casino stocks

In trading today, the Hong Kong stock market was up by around 1.3%.  But the Macau casino stocks traded there all rose by 5% or more.  One exception–the former monopoly casino operation, SJM (I’m not a fan), which rose by “only” 2.5%.

The near-term situation for the Macau casinos isn’t good.  Francis Tam, the SAR’s finance minister, has recently said that October will be a particularly weak month for casino win and that he doesn’t expect recovery until the second half of next year.

The reasons for the slump are also clear:  the mainland crackdown on corruption in general and conspicuous consumption in particular; protests in Hong; and, for October, the difficulty in matching the mammoth month (second-best in history) the casinos had this time a year ago.

Why the rally?

Two reasons, I think:

–the Macau casino stocks have been beaten down this year, are relatively cheap, and enjoy considerable support from their above-average dividend yields.  The group, ex SJM, had been up by 10% or so from its lows in late September – early October, even before today.

–the third-quarter earnings report from Wynn Resorts (WYNN), which contains information about its subsidiary Wynn Macau (HK: 1128), shows that the situation isn’t quite as bad as the consensus had been expecting.

what the WYNN report brings home

WYNN is a high-roller specialist.  In theory, then, 1128 should be hurt the most of all the casinos in Macau by the current slow contraction of the VIP gambler business.  Nevertheless, the Wynn Macau EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization–more or less, its cash generation) was basically flat with 3Q13!

Two reasons for this favorable outcome:

–the replacement of high rollers in Macau by the mass affluent (read:middle class, upper middle class) gamblers, who are much more profitable

–gamblers gravitating toward the better casino operators.  When the market was very hot a year ago, gamblers had trouble just locating a place to stay, so they ended up wherever they could find a bed and a seat at the table.  Now they have choices–and the market is sorting itself out into relative winners and losers.  In my view, this benefits the operators with Las Vegas experience.

what to do

For some time, I’ve been writing that I’ve been nibbling at Wynn Macau and Sands China–I already own a lot of Galaxy.  October win figures will likely be poor.  I’d use any weakness to add to those three.

 

Macau gambling: July 2013 results + other stuff (ii)

Last Friday I remarked that the strong year-on-year gains in casino “win” (the amount lost by gamblers, which is much smaller than the amount bet) for the SAR in July have to be taken with a grain of salt.  That’s because many Chinese gamblers decided to stay away from Macau during the run-up to the late 2012 leadership change in the Communist Party.  Why ask for trouble, they thought.

So far, August is shaping up as a clone of July.

On to the “other stuff” that I was too rushed to get to last week.

1. the economics of mass market vs. VIP

So far the story of gambling in the Macau SAR has been about high rollers playing baccarat.  Gradually, though, and with a lot of prodding by the government, mass market gambling–particularly in newer casinos in Cotai–is starting to develop.  This has important profit implications for all the publicly traded casino stocks.

Consider two examples:

A.  one high roller…

agrees to bet a minimum of US$3 million over a two-day stay in Macau.  He loses 3% of the amount bet.  The hosting casino wins US$90,000.

B.  45 mass market players…

each bet US$10,000 over a two-day stay.  They average a loss of 20% of the amount bet.  The hosting casino wins US$90,000.

Catering to group A is a very different business from catering to group B.

One obvious difference is that you need a lot more hotel rooms to house the mass market players (on the plus side, many of them will likely be paying for their accommodations).  Also, unlike Group A-ers, Group B-ers won’t be holed up in a private room all day gambling.  They’ll want to walk around with their companions, see shows, go shopping, eat in nice restaurants.  Therefore, to get them to come to Macau–and to get them to come back–casino operators have got to have very substantial non-casino operations.

That costs money.  The good news is that Group B is also more than happy to pay for entertainment, too.  In fact, the history of the Las Vegas strip shows that the non-casino entertainment business there grew from next to nothing a generation ago to a profit center equal in size to gaming operations by the early days of this century.  Although Hong Kong investors don’t seem to believe this, I think the same process is well underway in Macau.

license renewal

After Macau reverted back to China from Portuguese control, the new SAR granted casino licenses for 20-year periods.  For SJM and MGM China, their licences expire in 2020.  For everyone else, it’s 2022.

Casino companies are reporting that Macau has recently opened negotiations for license renewal.  This comes several years earlier than the market had expected.

Why so soon?

I think it’s because the government’s bargaining position weakens with time.

If it waits until, say, 2018 to negotiate with SJM, which controls almost a third of the gambling market, who has the upper hand?  The government can shut SJM down.  But that would throw a whole lot of people out of work and punch a gigantic hole in the government budget.  There are, of course, any number of casino operators chomping at the bit to get into this market who would be willing to replace SJM.  But it would take years for any of them to acquire land and build casino complexes–and that’s assuming there’s suitable land available for development.

Come to an impasse in 2015 instead and there’s still lots of time for Macau to tweak the capacity addition plans of other casino companies and find a new entrant before the old license expires.

Looking from the other side of the negotiating table, the minute the government announced non-renewal of a license, I’d expect the affected company’s business would immediately collapse.

To be clear, I don’t expect any of this “nuclear option” stuff will ever come into the foreground of negotiations, much less happen.  But the threat to a recalcitrant operator still exists, even if it’s unspoken.

One other thing:  if I were Macau and anticipating I might be forced to alter the license of a single casino firm in a negative way, I’d want negotiations with all the others to be settled favorably and announced to the financial markets before I took action.  That way I could make it clear that the government was disciplining a rogue, not taking arbitrary and crazy action against the gambling industry as a whole.

All in all, I expect license renewal to be a non-event.  But the process is worth keeping an eye on.

Macau gambling: July 2013 results + other stuff

Earlier this week the Macau Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ) posted the total market casino “win” (i.e., the amount gamblers lost to the casinos) during July.  The figures 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%

Source: DICJ

For the fifth month in a row, the aggregate win in the SAR exceeded MOP28 billion. For the past two months, the year-on-year revenue growth comparison exceeded +20%.

It’s a bit too early for dancing in the streets, however.  A glance at the relevant date for 2012 shows that part of the apparent strength is due to the weak denominator–that is, the comparisons are easier than normal because growth in casino patronage fell off dramatically in the second half of 2012 both because of softness in the Chinese economy and the desire of big gamblers to maintain a low(er) profile in advance of the once-in-a-decade change in top leadership of the Communist Party.

Here are the 2012 figures:

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: DICJ

There’s a second factor that may make the recent figures more difficult to interpret–the development of the mass market in Macau.  High-roller baccarat players in Macau are effectively professional gamblers.  They lose around 3% of the (huge) amounts they bet.  Mass market players bet far less.  But they typically lose 20%+ of their wagers.  As this latter segment grows, market win may accelerate for a while.  I don’t think we’re at that point yet, but I don’t know.

Nevertheless, the continuing resilience of the SAR’s gambling business in the face of reports of softness in the Chinese economy is encouraging.

More on Monday.

Macau Gambling: May 2013 Market Results

The day before yesterday, the Macau Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau published the aggregate amount won from patrons by the casino industry in the SAR.  Results were as follows, in millions of MOP (Macanese patacas):

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%

Source: Macau Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ)

At MOP 29,6 billion (US$3.7 billion), the monthly gaming win for May was the second-highest on record, exceeded only by the MOP 31.3 billion posted during the holiday season in March.  It was also a 13.5% year-on-year gain.  The strong–but not blowout–comparison came against the last healthy month of 2012. From June onward, a combination of economic slowdown and the desire not to attract much attention in advance of the change in leadership of the Chinese Communist Party caused a stagnation in market win until last December.

what to look for in market development

1.  Although what will likely turn out to be a 15% yoy growth rate for 2013 is nothing to sneeze at, it would no longer be the gold rush we’ve come to know and love in Macau.

Normally, I’d guess that maturity for Macau gaming will be 10% annual growth–because that would basically in line with my guess at China’s trend nominal GDP expansion rate.  But since China is attempting a macroeconomic transition away from low value-added manufacturing based on large wage increases rather than currency appreciation, I want to pencil in a higher number.  I’m just not sure what it should be.

2.  In addition, I don’t think Macau is mature quite yet.  Better transportation links will allow the SAR to reach progressively deeper into the mainland for customers.

3. Macau is unique in my experience, because it is dominated by high stakes baccarat played by extremely wealthy, highly skilled gamblers who don’t lose a large percentage of their bets and who have a large chunk of their losses rebated back to them as the price of their patronage.

In contrast, upper income, but not insanely wealthy, gamblers in Las Vegas have percentage losses on their bets of about 10x what the high rollers do.  So the broadening of the market to include more of the first group may bring profits to casinos that are very much higher than Hong Kong analysts now expect.

4.  Market momentum is moving toward Cotai.  That’s the newest area.  It’s also where the new capacity is opening. Galaxy Entertainment and Sands China are the prime beneficiaries.

5.  Former also-rans are now leading the pack.  Operators like Wynn Macau, who have been the most desirable destinations as well as efficient since opening in wringing every last avo (1/100 of  pataca) from their plant and equipment, will stagnate in gaming operations until they can open new capacity.

5.  Non-gambling offerings–restaurants, shows, retail–are in their infancy in Macau.  In pre-Great Recession Las Vegas, they brought in half the industry’s profits.  If Macau follows suit–and I don’t see why it shouldn’t–this could be an enormous positive surprise to Hong Kong investors.  Wynn Macau and Sands China will likely be the stars in this arena.

imminent crackdown on high rollers in Macau?

an anti-corruption campaign

Overnight The Times of London published an article saying that the new administration in Beijing will begin a crackdown on corruption in China shortly after the start of the new year late this month.  This will included an attack on organized crime (triad)-related money-laundering junkets by gamblers to Macau.

Most Hong Kong-traded Macau gambling stocks sold off by 5%-7% on the news–the one exception being, oddly enough, MGM China ( HK: 2282), which is strongly linked to Stanley Ho’s daughter, Pansy.  US-traded gambling stocks with Macau exposure are selling off today as well, although to a much lesser extent.

What’s going on?

–I’m assuming the report is true, even though I’ve never–ever–seen The Times break an important stock market-related story.  If I had to guess, this is a deliberate leak from the police in Hong Kong.

–The extent of triad influence in Macau today is unclear.  In colonial Macau it’s thought to have flourished, with the rumored help of the Ho family of SJM Holdings–then the monopoly casino operator.  In my view, one of the main reasons the SAR invited American firms like WYNN and LVS to establish casinos a decade ago was to be a counterweight to traditional influences–partly for their superior technology, partly for their far superior compliance procedures.

–Income inequality, and in particular the vast fortunes that relatives of high officials seem to routinely accumulate, is a topic of increasing political concern in China.  It’s also a specific target of the new administration.  So a crackdown may have more targets than just the underworld.

–The selloff so far has been across the board, ex MGM and MGM China.  If the target is just the underworld, it’s possible that casinos associated with the Ho family, long rumored to have triad connections, would be hit the worst.  If the target is also high rollers in general, add the WYNN interests to the list, since that company specializes in catering to the high roller market.  Arguably, Galaxy Entertainment and the LVS companies will be hurt the least, since they focus on the growing mass market and haven’t had the greatest success in wooing deep-pocketed individuals.

what to do

No one really knows how severe or how long-lasting an anti-corruption campaign focused on Macau gamblers might be.  To pick a number out of the air, it’s possible that the result would be a permanent 10% reduction in the level of gambling in the SAR.  I think that’s probably too severe, but let’s stick with that figure.   After whatever initial downward shock there might be, this would mean a year without much growth in the SAR’s gambling revenues.  The pain would probably be distributed as I’ve described in the previous section.

I believe that the long-term prospects for Macau gambling are excellent–at least unless/until Beijing decides to establish a competing gambling enclave on the mainland.  There’s no sign that’s likely to happen; it’s just the only thing I can see that will upset the apple cart.  I’m all for anything that cleans up illegal activity.  So I look at the threat of a decline in the Macau gambling stocks as a temporary affair and mainly an issue of portfolio risk control.

These stocks have generally been outstanding performers recently, on the idea that the upturn in the Chinese economy now under way will mean a rebound in Macau gambling market growth.  So the stocks may have become outsized parts of your portfolio.  Trim position sizes, if necessary.  Imagine a 20% stock price decline from here.  Are you satisfied to hold all the stock you own now?  If not, cut the position sizes and wait to see what happens.

 

 

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