Speculation over a crackdown by Beijing on gambling in Macau affected the performance of the casino operator Sands China, which reported a subdued 9 per cent net increase in profit to HK$$9.58 billion for last year.
The release yesterday of a "preliminary announcement of annual results" for the year ended December 31 came after speculation in international media that the mainland government was poised to crack down on Macau's junket operators.
The South China Morning Post reported yesterday that because of the speculation, shares in casino operators SJM Holdings, Galaxy Entertainment, MGM China, Sands China, and Wynn Macau fell by between 5.2 and 6.8 per cent.
Shares in Sands China fell a further 0.55 per cent yesterday to HK$36.1.
The fall in share prices came despite doubts by analysts about the accuracy of the speculation, carried in The Times of London, with Union Gaming Research saying that a crackdown "does not make sense" as it would come before the annual meetings of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference due in early March.
Sands China opened Sands Cotai Central, an integrated resort development, in April last year. It reported that 46 million visitors came to its Cotai Strip properties, with five million recorded in December.
Favourable economic conditions on the mainland had sparked optimism for Sands China, as the company opened a tower at the Sheraton Macau hotel on Cotai last month and the Macau government allowed it to open 200 additional gaming tables. It is now planning to invest US$$2.5 billion to build a fifth resort in Macau called The Parisian, which will have 3,000 hotel rooms to attract middle-class gamblers from the mainland.
A dividend of HK$1.16 per share was declared, up from 58 HK cents the previous year. A total of HK$9.3 billion was paid out in dividends to shareholders.
Las Vegas Sands, Sands China's parent company, reported a revenue increase last month of 18 per cent to US$11.1 billion for 2012. Adjusted net income was US$1.77 billion.
In response to The Times, Macau's government said that it would strengthen licensing for casino junket operators and work with law enforcement to tackle gambling-related crimes.
Francis Tam, Macau's secretary for economy and finance, said the Macau government had "continuously adjusted and improved the system, particularly the regulations".
Analysts have forecast a rebound in Asian casino revenues as the mainland economy improves.