Gross gaming receipts rose 3.1 per cent to MOP19.3 billion (USD2.4 billion), according to data released by Macau’s Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau on Wednesday. That follows an 8 per cent increase in December and compares with the median estimate of an 8.5 per cent expansion by analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.
Casino stocks fell in Hong Kong. Operators in the lone legal gambling center in China are switching gears to woo tourists and casual gamblers with family-friendly resorts, including Wynn Resorts Ltd.’s Palace casino with its synchronized fountains and Las Vegas Sands Corp.’s Parisian complete with a replica of the Eiffel Tower. While a recovery of the $30 billion industry has been gathering momentum after high- stakes players were driven away by China’s anti-corruption drive, growth at the new casinos also bring risks.
“People are still concerned about the Chinese economy and anti-corruption,” said Michael Ting, a Hong Kong-based analyst at CIMB Group Holdings Ltd. “The worst is over but Macau’s recovery is going to be quite volatile and choppy.”
January’s numbers also point to a listless Chinese New Year start, with revenue growth falling below the low end of analyst estimates that ranged from 5 per cent to 12 per cent. The weeklong holiday celebration runs through Feb. 2 in China this year. In 2016, the Lunar New Year holiday fell in February.
Sands China Ltd. dropped 2.2 per cent in Hong Kong, while Wynn Macau Ltd. lost 1.1 per cent. Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd. tumbled 2.7 per cent and SJM Holdings Ltd. decreased 2.7 per cent. The Bloomberg Intelligence index of Macau gaming shares dropped 1.9 per cent, compared with the 0.2 per cent drop in the benchmark Hang Seng index.
Betting volume from high-stakes players may have been softer than expected during the first few days of the Chinese New Year holiday. “It is fair to say that some analysts and investors got too excited about the VIP segment, and the V-shape recovery in VIP demand is not coming through,” said Nomura Holdings Inc. analyst Richard Huang.
Revenue from the baccarat card games favored by the big bettors from China saw a 13 per cent increase during the final three months of 2016, the first quarterly expansion since 2014. While Macau is reliant on the casual gamblers and holiday revelers that the new resorts are targeting, challenges include a cannibalization effect with the latest properties drawing in crowds at the expense of existing casinos.
Tourists to Macau reached 614,000 in the first five days of the Chinese New Year holiday that began Jan. 27, an increase of 5.7 per cent compared with a year ago. Tourists from mainland China, which accounted for about 68 per cent of arrivals, also gained 6.6 per cent in the period.
Macau’s bet on driving tourists and the more profitable mass gamblers to the enclave may still pay off in February, when a fuller picture of the Chinese New Year holiday revenue will emerge.
“The recovery during Chinese New Year and February can be sharper too,” JPMorgan Chase & Co. analyst DS Kim wrote in a note. “We believe the disappointing January was more a blip than a trend.”