Macau strikes gold with record tourist numbers during holiday

Almost 1m mainlanders visited in first week of October, with total daily traffic for all tourists reaching an all-time peak of over 190,000 on the third day of the national holiday

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 October, 2016, 12:46pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 October, 2016, 12:46pm

Macau tourism numbers hit a record high during China’s “golden week” holiday and analysts say the welcome data could indicate the gaming hub’s run of bad luck is turning.

Almost one million mainland Chinese tourists descended on the former Portuguese enclave famous for its casinos during the first week of October, with total daily traffic for all tourists reaching an all-time peak of over 190,000 on the third day of the national holiday.

Macau is the only place in China to allow gambling and has a population of 600,000 which was boosted by almost a third on the busiest day.

The high visitor numbers translated into a 10 per cent rise in gross gaming revenue for the first 10 days of October worth 9.8 billion Macau pataca (HK$9.5 billion), according to a note led by Goldman Sachs’ analyst Simon Cheung.

The rise continues the momentum seen in September, when gross gaming revenue rose 7 per cent year on year, the second consecutive month of growth after more than two years of declines, which many have attributed squarely to President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on corruption.

Mainland visitors were 7 per cent higher than last year, while overall visitors increased by 8 per cent to 1.15 million, Bank of America Merrill Lynch research headed by Billy Ng found.

Visitors from Hong Kong and Taiwan also increased, by 12.5 and 15.7 per cent year on year, respectively.

Despite Macau adding three new hotels with another 6,300 rooms over the past year, or 20 per cent more hotel space, the hotel occupancy rate was up 5.1 per cent to 92.3 per cent.

Ng expects gross gaming revenue for the whole month to be up to 5 per cent higher year on year thanks to the golden week boost, up from his previous estimate of 2.2 per cent or 20.5 billion Macau pataca.

The regained Midas touch also spread to mid-priced consumer goods sold inside the casinos, according to the Goldman figures, which rose 10 to 20 per cent on year, although sales of luxury items remained flat.

“High-end jewellery and fashion brands said they had not benefited much from the increase in foot traffic, suggesting that a majority of visitors have relatively low purchasing power,” Cheung said.

The brighter numbers will certainly be toasted by Macau’s listed gaming operators, with MGM China and Wynn Macau among the stocks tipped by Cheung to gain over the next year.

MGM is tipped to rise to HK$15.7 while Wynn Macau is expected to rise to HK$15.

Cheung also expected Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd and Galaxy to see improvement in their earnings, as Wynn Macau Ltd’s Wynn Palace, which opened in August, and Sands China Ltd’s Parisian casino, which opened in September, get into their stride after having made a limited impact on existing casinos in the third quarter.

As expectations for Melco Crown and Galaxy’s earnings have been reset, the stocks were likely to perform “relatively better” in the near term.

Last Monday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made a three-day official visit to Macau where he announced 18 policies, including helping Macau become a key centre for yuan settlement.

The move is aimed at boosting and diversifying the economy, still heavily reliant on gaming revenues.

But with no policies specifically targeted the gaming industry, Cheung said: “We see this as a non-event,” adding he remained satisfied enough that the improved gross gaming revenue shows the odds are good of a continued winning streak.

Merrill’s Ng, said the speech showed the central government’s continued support for Macau.

On the Hong Kong exchange on Tuesday morning, MGM China was trading up 4.01 per cent at HK$13.48, Wynn Macau was up 2.78 per cent at HK$11.80, Sands China was up 1.03 per cent to HK$34.20, and Galaxy Entertainment was up 2.56 per cent to HK$30.05.

On Monday, markets had badly reacted to the arrest of 18 Crown Resorts staff, including three Australians after raids on pawn shops in Macau thought to be easing the illicit flow of money from China.

Morgan Stanley analyst Praveen Choudhary said the detention of the marketing staff could cause companies to be more careful in the near term, but he didn’t expect a meaningful impact on revenue.

Macau has the largest exposure in the world to money laundering, according to Global Risk and Investigations at FTI Consulting.