Macau casinos

I haven’t written about the Macau casinos for some time, mostly because I haven’t had anything useful to say.  The fact that I’ve called this group horribly wrongly over the past year or so hasn’t encouraged me to make predictions, either.

I’ve traded around in the group (and, in the case of Wynn Macau and Sands China, their US parents, as well) but have kept my overall position size by and large intact.  Shows what I know.

It has seemed to me, wrongly, that all of the bad news about the casinos in Macau has been in the public domain for some time.  The anti-corruption campaign being waged by Beijing–that has made high rollers wary of exhibiting their wealth at the gaming tables–has been going on since 2013.  Restrictions on visitation rights from the mainland to Macau put in place last year have done the rest of the damage.

Both of these factors have been well-known for a long time.  Therefore, it has seemed to me, much/most of the potential damage had to already be factored into the prices of the stocks.

Wrong! The Macau casino stocks have been sold down again and again when the SAR’s gaming authority has announced each month the (highly predictable) year on year gambling revenue decline.  Figuring we were at the bottom six months ago as far as the stocks are concerned, as I did, has clearly been the wrong position to take.

As I’m writing this on Wednesday night, however, the stocks I pay particular attention to–Wynn Macau, Sands China and Galaxy Entertainment–are each up by more than 10%.

Why is this?

It’s because the mainland has rescinded the travel restrictions it inaugurated in 2014.  As far as visiting is concerned, we’re back to the older, more favorable rules.  This plus has been already reflected in US trading over the past two days, but only in overnight trading tonight in Hong Kong.

Are we at the bottom now?

For someone like me, who already has a significant position, this question has no action-related relevance.  And, as I’ve mentioned above, I’ve been wrong about these stocks for a considerable time.  Still, it’s hard to ignore a 10%-15% increase in stock prices.  Also, the second half of 2014 was the period when the Macau gambling market began a serious swoon. Therefore, year on year comparisons for the overall market should soon begin to improve.  We don’t need current results to get any better.  More than anything, the improving comparisons will be coming from deterioration in the base year, 2014.

So. yes, I think this is the bottom.

I also think that the upturn in the gambling market won’t be a rising tide that lifts all boats, was it has been in the past.  I think Wynn Macau, and to a lesser extent, Galaxy Entertainment, have the most to gain.

 

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.

 

September 2014 for the Macau gambling industry

Yesterday in Macau, the SAR’s Gambling Coordination and Information Bureau (DICJ) released its monthly report of aggregate casino win (the amount gamblers lost in the casinos) for September.

The results were ugly.  The gambling industry as a whole took in MOP 25.6 billion (US$3.2 billion).  That’s an eye-popping amount  …but it’s 11.7% less than the SAR’s take during the same month last year.  September is also the fourth consecutive month of negative year-on-year comparisons.  To top the negative story off, the comparisons are getting progressively weaker.

The reason for the falloffs the in gambling in the SAR is an intensifying anti-corruption crackdown by Beijing, which has had Chinese high-roller gamblers trying to keep low profiles.  Some are doing their gambling in the Philippines, Singapore or Las Vegas; many are just staying home.

Despite this bad news, Macau casino stocks traded in Hong Kong rose by about 5% on the news.  Why?

–Analysts in Hong Kong have recently been falling all over themselves trying to be bearish, with the (typical) result that the actual numbers were better than the consensus had been predicting.

–The stocks are cheap.  They’re 40% – 50% below their peaks, with most now yielding more than 5%.

–The Macau gambling market is transitioning, thanks to the development of Cotai, away from being a destination only for the ultra-wealthy to a venue for the middle class.  Yes, the former gamble make much bigger wagers, but a casino may keep only 1.5% of the amount bet.  For the mass affluent, on the other hand, that percentage may be 15% – 20%.  In addition, middle class gamblers will also shop, eat out and go to shows.

–Comparisons should begin to improve next year.  New capacity catering to middle class gamblers will open; at some point, the renewed anticorruption campaign will have been going on for a year.  Assuming government efforts don’t intensify again, the yoy high-roller comparisons should stop deteriorating.  That would allow the middle class growth to begin to shine through in earnings.

I have no idea whether this is the absolute bottom for the Macau casino stocks or not.  But they look cheap to me.  I continue to think the long-term winners are the American-run casinos, especially Wynn Macau and Sands China.  I’ve been nibbling at both.  (An aside:  For a long while, I couldn’t buy Sands China through either Fidelity or Schwab.  Both had mistakenly classified the stock as a Reg S issue, which couldn’t be sold to Americans. At least with Fidelity, though, the problem has been fixed.)  The biggest loser will likely be the former monopoly operator, SJM.

Macau casinos

Talk about an unloved group.

Casinos with Macau exposure have been pummeled over the past six months.  Late summer has been an especially bad period.   Wynn Macau (HK: 1128) has lost a third of its value over the past half year;  its parent, Wynn Resorts (WYNN) has lost a quarter of its market cap.  The only issue to escape relatively unscathed is MGM, a former near-death experience that has apparently turned the corner.

The reason?

…an anti-corruption campaign by the government in Beijing has had high roller baccarat players from the mainland trying to keep a lower profile.  As a result, the overall casino win, the total amount lost by patrons of the SAR’s casinos, has been showing small year-on-year declines for the past three months.  There’s no reason to believe this trend won’t continue for a while yet.  There’s more, but this is the basic story.

I also think, although I have no evidence for this, that institutional investors have generally decided that they want to participate in the upcoming Alibaba IPO but that they don’t want to increase their aggregate exposure to China-related stocks.  So they’re jettisoning a growth story gone cold for one with more obvious signs of life.

Overnight (i.e., this morning in Hong Kong) I bought a small amount of Wynn Macau.

I have no idea if this is the near-term bottom for the Macau gambling market or for 1128.  But the stock is trading at 15x earnings and yielding 5%+.  I think the long-term story for Macau–that it is turning itself into a (much larger) clone of the Las Vegas Strip, that is, a resort destination for the Chinese middle class–is still intact.  I think it’s still early days for tourism in the SAR.  I also expect the current slowdown will increase the competitive distance between the firms I view as the ultimate market winners, Wynn, Sands China, and Galaxy vs. the former monopoly casino operator, SJM Holdings.  SJM still has the largest market share, but is handicapped by its connection to the Ho family.

 

For the moment I’m going to wait, watch and collect the dividend.  If 1128 declines further, however, I’ll probably buy more.

This isn’t an idea for the very risk-averse, since the Macau gambling market ultimately depends on the good will of Beijing, whose mood is difficult to assess.  The extent and duration of the current crackdown on lavish consumption has so far taken even veteran China hands by surprise.  Still, a 5% yield makes up for a lot of warts.  And using a discount broker like Fidelity makes getting in an out easy and inexpensive.