Goldman says time to buy shares in beleaguered MTR

MTR Corp. is poised to recover quickly when Hong Kong’s situation eventually settles, after months of protests in the city saw its passenger numbers and stock price plummet.
That’s the view of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts, who’ve upgraded the stock to buy from neutral. In a research note looking at Hong Kong conglomerates, Goldman said MTR had the ability to recover more rapidly than other companies from the impact of the unrest. It warned, however, that normalization would depend on how long the current situation continues.
Shares of the rail operator – once one of Hong Kong’s safest stock bets – have fallen 20% from a record high in July as violent clashes escalated. Much of the violence has taken place in and around MTR stations, leaving them badly damaged and covered in graffiti. Traffic on the metro system slid by the most on record last month as MTR closed lines early and suspended train services.
MTR has 6 buy, 3 hold and 2 sell ratings, according to data complied by Bloomberg.
“As the monopolistic railway company capturing half of public transportation traffic,” MTR should see traffic recover quickly as the situation in Hong Kong improves, analysts led by Simon Cheung wrote in a note yesterday. They cited the 2003 SARS epidemic as an example where MTR patronage rose by 2% in July that year after dropping 20% in April.
MTR caters toward domestic spending, unlike travel-related businesses that depend on tourist arrivals, which might take longer to recover, the analysts said, adding that the company has also locked in profits on property sales and may see some upside from rail expansion plans.
Hong Kong’s situation remains unclear, however. Leader Carrie Lam didn’t make any new concessions to protesters after pro-democracy forces won a landslide in local elections, a move that risks leading to further violence.
In the same report, Goldman analysts said they remain cautious on Hong Kong’s retail and office sectors and revised lower earnings estimates for conglomerates under coverage, warning of an additional earnings impact of as much as 8% if protests persist for another 6 months.
In the note, Goldman said it sees more downside risks for Wharf Holdings Ltd., Swire Pacific Ltd. and Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd. It downgraded Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings Ltd. to neutral from buy, citing risks to growth. Bloomberg

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