Gaming | Casino stocks gain on strong holiday tourism

Macau casino shares jumped after China’s Lunar New Year holiday saw tourism growth double to the world’s biggest gaming hub.

China mainland visitors to Macau climbed 26 percent from last year’s festive holiday, according to Macau’s tourism office. That accelerated from last year’s 12 percent growth and triggered a rally for the Hong Kong-listed casino operators.

Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd. advanced 1.5 percent yesterday, leading the jump in the sector. Sands China Ltd., SJM Holdings Ltd. and MGM China Holdings also closed higher. Hang Seng Index advanced 0.7 percent.

The tourism numbers over the lunar holiday are a bright spot amid concerns that high rollers are staying away from the gaming tables in the territory as China’s economic slowdown and trade tensions pressure consumer spending. Monthly casino revenue in Macau fell in January for the first time in more than two years.

Tourism from China has seen a boost since October after the opening of a bridge linking Zhuhai on the mainland to Macau and Hong Kong.

To be sure, actual casino revenue data may not look as rosy as the visitation numbers.

“The Chinese New Year holiday season was decent this year, but definitely not as strong as the visitation number shows,” Grant Govertsen, a Union Gaming Securities Asia Ltd. analyst yesterday.

Based on spot checks on the ground, Govertsen said many mainland visitors to Macau are day trippers who travel to check out the new bridge and leave soon after without stopping at the territory’s casinos or spending money in the city.

A Morgan Stanley survey in mid-January showed lower hotel booking rates overall for Chinese New Year, especially at luxury resorts. The firm’s analysts expected lower gambling spending per visitor during the holiday season, even as the number of day trippers to Macau was forecast to grow.

While the number of tourists and casual gamblers have increased, high rollers who can skew casino revenue were in short supply at the tables. Suncity, the largest junket operator that extends credit to high-stakes gamblers, saw betting volume drop 3 percent during the first five days of the Year of Pig, according to Andrew Lo, executive director of Suncity Group Holdings Ltd., the publicly traded unit of the group.

Lo said he isn’t giving up yet, as big bettors often avoid the busiest festive days and may still show up in the next few days. MDT/Bloomberg

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