Sands Leads Macau Casino Slump as January Revenue Growth Slowed

Sands China Ltd. dropped the most in more than two years in Hong Kong, pacing declines among casino operators as Macau gaming revenue growth fell to the slowest in 15 months, missing analyst estimates.

Sands fell 7.5 percent as of the close of trading in Hong Kong, the biggest decline since October 2011. Macau casino revenue grew 7 percent to 28.7 billion patacas ($3.6 billion) in January, the slowest monthly gain since October 2012, according to data from a Macau’s Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau statement today.

Casino operators have been expanding on the Macau’s Cotai Strip and adding amenities to attract middle-class visitors to help offset declining growth in revenue and lower margins from gambling by high rollers. Slowing economic growth in China has blunted the pace of sales increases, including that of big spenders accounting for an estimated two-thirds of gambling revenue in the former Portuguese enclave.

“The smaller growth was a reflection of the weakening VIP performance,” Kenny Lau, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Credit Suisse Group AG, said by phone today. “As the Chinese economy slowed, the weakness in VIP business may continue.”

Galaxy Entertainment Group dropped 7.3 percent, while SJM Holdings Ltd., Asia’s largest casino operator, fell 5.9 percent, and Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd. declined 2.4 percent.

Lau said he had expected January revenue to increase by 12 percent to 14 percent, while Wells Fargo Securities estimated an 11 percent to 13 percent gain.

Slowing Growth

The Chinese economy expanded 7.7 percent in the fourth quarter and the country will struggle to maintain 7.5 percent economic growth this year and next year, Li Daokui, a former People’s Bank of China academic adviser, said recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Weaker revenue growth came amid a slowdown in gaming activities leading into the week-long holiday during the Chinese New Year which began on Jan. 31, said Grant Govertsen, a Macau-based analyst at Union Gaming Group.

“This effect was probably exacerbated this year as the heavily family-oriented days leading up to the Chinese New Year fell at the very end of January and likely brought VIP to a standstill” to end of the month, Govertsen wrote in a note to clients released today.

Govertsen said he expects casinos to benefit as improved transport infrastructure and rail connections make it easier for Chinese tourists to visit, he said by phone today. The analyst maintained a 14 percent revenue growth forecast for 2014.

Macau casino revenue rose 19 percent to $45.2 billion last year, about seven times that of the Las Vegas Strip.

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