Ratings agencies mark down earnings prospects of casino operators

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 February, 2014, 4:27am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 February, 2014, 6:30am

Shares in Macau's six Hong Kong-listed casino operators - Sands China, Wynn Macau, Melco Crown Entertainment, Galaxy Entertainment, MGM China and SJM - have been on a roller-coaster ride in the past year and remain vulnerable to market rumours about the prospects of its fast-growing industry.

"They are sensitive to rumours," GEO Securities chief executive Francis Lun Sheung-nim said. "Even though they have traded in a yo-yo pattern, the stock prices tend to move upwards along with rising gaming revenue."

Fitch Ratings estimates Macau's gaming revenue will grow 12 per cent this year while Standard & Poor's expects growth of 10 per cent.

Still, both credit rating agencies' forecasts are significantly lower than the 18.6 per cent growth to 360.75 billion patacas last year, a record year for the former Portuguese enclave which cemented its place as the world's No1 gaming market.

Fitch's estimate is underpinned by its muted assessment of the mainland economy's prospects this year, with the agency forecasting gross domestic product growth of 7 per cent.

Melco Crown, a joint venture between Australia's Crown and Lawrence Ho Yau-lung, a son of casino mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun, performed the best in the past 12 months, with its share price surging 128.5 per cent to HK$109.10 as of Friday.

Property tycoon Lui Che-woo's gaming flagship Galaxy followed, with its shares rocketing 116.74 per cent to HK$72.70.

MGM shares have gained 98.34 per cent in the past year, while Sands China rose 69.12 per cent and Wynn Macau added 68.22 per cent. Stanley Ho's SJM was the laggard, rising just 34.67 per cent.

Some analysts said Macau's gaming industry faced headwinds from the Communist Party's crackdown on official extravagance on the mainland and a protracted labour shortage in Macau.

Last week, the shares came under selling pressure when rumours spread that the renewal of the operators' licences would be reviewed every five to 10 years from 2020.

Lun, who expects gaming stocks will continue to see volatile trade, favours Sands China and Galaxy, the two biggest players on the Cotai Strip.

Galaxy is scheduled to double the space it has in its Galaxy Macau casino to 500 gaming tables and more than 1,000 gaming machines while putting up 1,350 guest rooms by the middle of next year. Expansion plans costing US$6.5 billion to US$7.75 billion are earmarked for completion beyond 2015.