Gaming equities are tumbling in Friday’s abbreviated trading session as investors fret about the impact of a new strain of the coronavirus discovered in South Africa.
Currently known as B.1.1.529, the variant is stoking fears of hyper-mutations and increased resistance to vaccines. It’s estimated that there are 100 cases of the new strain in South Africa. The country, which has a vaccination rate of less than 50 percent, saw its daily COVID-19 case count spike from 200 to 2,000 on Thursday.
News of the emergence of B.1.1.529 is prompting investors to hit the “sell” button as all three major domestic equity indexes are lower by more than two percent in late trading with gaming equities ranking as some of the worst offenders in the consumer discretionary sector.
“Global authorities reacted with alarm on Friday to a new coronavirus variant detected in South Africa, with the EU and Britain among those tightening border controls as researchers sought to find out if the mutation was vaccine-resistant,” reports Reuters.
Hardly any casino stocks are being spared today as shares of operators with significant Las Vegas Strip exposure, extensive regional portfolios and those that are dependent on international markets are all sliding. In late trading, MGM Resorts International (NYSE:MGM) and Caesars Entertainment (NASDAQ:CZR) — the two largest operators on the Las Vegas Strip — are off four percent and six percent, respectively.
Regional operators are getting pounded, too, as Century Casinos (NASDAQ:CNTY), which has no Las Vegas properties, is off more than eight percent while Full House Resorts (NASDAQ:FLL) is lower by seven percent.
Carnage for Macau Casino Stocks
Not surprisingly, operators with significant exposure to Macau are proving highly sensitive to the B.1.1.529 headlines as Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) – the owner of five integrated resorts in the special administrative (SAR) – is down eight percent.
Melco Resorts & Entertainment (NASDAQ:MLCO) is off more than 13 percent while Wynn Resorts (NASDAQ:WYNN) is lower by eight percent.
COVID continues to induce structural ‘start and stop-like’ traffic in Macau. China’s sensitive reactions to COVID remain,” said B. Riley analyst David Bain in a note to clients today.
B.1.1.529 cases have been identified in Botswana, Hong Kong and South Africa and that news comes as talk that China could reopen its border with Hong Kong was gaining momentum. Hong Kong is a major thoroughfare to Macau and further travel restrictions in China are likely to be a blow to hopes of recovery in the world’s largest casino hub.
Currently, there are no reports of B.1.1.529 cases in Macau.
Also known as the nu variant, the new strain of the coronavirus carries an array of mutations and healt experts believe it possesses higher levels of antibody resistance than previous versions of the virus.
“South African scientists have already detected 30 mutations to the spike protein, which play a big role in how the virus enters the body,” according to Seeking Alpha.
If the nu variant persists and becomes a thorny issue for land-based casino companies, iGaming operators could prove durable if investors revisit stay-at-home stocks. Proving that thesis, downtrodden DraftKings (NASDAQ:DKNG) is up half a percent today.
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