Macau Rebound Showing Signs of Life

By | July 20, 2021

Macau’s long-awaited gaming recovery may finally be starting to take shape. That’s while shares of concessionaires in the world’s largest casino center still offer value for patient investors, according to one bank.

Macau rebound
A traveler entering Macau via the international airport there. Analysts visitation data is trending the right way. (Image: The Star)

In a recent note, J.P. Morgan analysts point out summer demand is trending in the right direction in the special administrative region (SAR). That’s even with lingering coronavirus-related headwinds. For example, Macau only recently lifted entry protocols for travelers arriving from the neighboring Guangdong Province. But establishment of a travel bubble with Hong Kong remains elusive.

Our checks suggest upbeat summer holidays, with encouraging feedback on the level of player inquiry and booking,” said the J.P. Morgan analysts.

Should that trend hold and expand, it’d be welcome relief for operators and investors alike that are growing frustrated with the pace of recovery in the SAR. Broadly speaking, gaming equities are flailing this year, with Macau-centric names among the biggest disappointments.

Macau Near-Term Trends

Soon after the coronavirus pandemic rattled the gaming and leisure industry in early 2020, analysts speculated Macau would rebound more rapidly than Las Vegas and other marquee gaming markets.

That thesis proved inaccurate, as regional casinos led the domestic gaming rebound, with Sin City more recently picking up the slack, despite lack of convention business. Now, some analysts believe the largest US casino center will return to pre-pandemic revenue levels in 2023, which is earlier than expected, while Macau’s recovery is seen as longer-ranging.

Still, there are inklings that gross gaming revenue (GGR) in Macau is perking up and doing so at a pivotal time.

“We expect gross gaming revenue to resume sequential recovery path in July (+30 percent month-on-month) and print a post-pandemic high in August (+20 percent month-on-month), helping investors to regain confidence before the all-important October Golden Week,” according to J.P. Morgan.

Golden Week, a Chinese national holiday, runs from Oct. 1 through Oct. 7, and is usually one of the busiest times of year in the gaming hub.

Easing Macau Travel Restrictions

As has been the case over the course of the pandemic, Macau’s near-term fortunes hinge largely on the easing of travel protocols. Owing to China’s policies regarding travel against the COVID-19 backdrop, rising case counts can stymie efforts to further open Macau’s borders.

Currently, the SAR is working with Hong Kong on bubble plans, but no firm date is being discussed. On an annual basis, Hong Kong delivers up to 15 percent of visitors to the casino center. Market observers believe positive travel news will unfold in stages, potentially providing multiple catalysts for shares of concessionaires through year-end.

“We’d expect each [travel-easing] step to have a few weeks of gap, hoping to see border/visa largely normalized by end-2021/early-2022,” said the JP Morgan team. “Looking at the bright side, this means we may have positive headlines every few weeks into fourth quarter, which could keep the [investor] sentiment afloat,” concludes the J.P. Morgan analysts.

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