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Time To Buy Beaten Down Macau Stocks?

Summary

Casino stocks with exposure to Macau have taken a drubbing, sales down for the 16th consecutive month in September.

Measures announced by the Chinese government to boost tourism to the area might provide some much-needed support.

Combined with a low valuation, a return to revenue growth would propel these stocks higher.

Anyone keeping an eye on casino stocks with exposure to Macau knows that the last year or so has been rough. Anyone following these stocks has also noticed them ripping higher last Friday, as the Chinese government has hinted at its willingness to support the gaming industry. With US gaming stocks trading at a sizable discount to the broader market, and the possibility of returning to revenue growth, we might have put in a bottom on Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) and Wynn (NASDAQ:WYNN).

Beijing signals support

For quite a while, the mainland Chinese government seemed more concerned with diversifying Macau's economy away from gambling and into more wholesome, family friendly types of entertainment. Now, it seems as if Beijing is willing to let Macau get back to what it does best: gaming.

Presumably, officials are starting to worry about the precipitous decline in Macau's gambling revenue. The region posted its 16th consecutive month of declining sales in September. As much as a broader spectrum of tourism options would benefit the island's economy in the long run, it needs some help with its bread-and-butter business right now.

Chinese officials stated that they were taking a more favorable stance towards propping up the gaming industry, mostly by relaxing certain visa restrictions for Mainland Chinese passport holders. Ideas include offering more individual visas as well as the creation of new multiple-entry visas. In general, the government said it was looking to find ways to boost tourism to the region. The obvious choice would be to support the mass gambling segment, as VIP is troublesome at the moment due to sagging demand among China's wealthier citizens following Beijing's corruption crackdown.

This is not an insignificant development for casino operators in Macau. A concerted effort on the part of the Chinese government is likely to boost demand going forward, and in any case the region has demographics on its side. Since 1978, half a billion people have escaped poverty, and the ranks of Chinese millionaires have swelled.

Bargain hunting

Whether or not things pick up in Macau, casino stocks have one thing going for them: They're very, very cheap. Even after Las Vegas' Sands 10% surge, the stock still trades at less than 14 times trailing earnings. This is largely due to its poor stock market performance recently, having shed about a third of its value this year. Following its pop of nearly 30% on Friday, Wynn is looking more expensive at about 20.6 times trailing earnings. However, the forward multiple of around 15 is quite enticing.

Although I am of course hesitant to call a bottom, I think the risk/reward ratio of US Macau casino stocks is looking considerably better than it did a few months ago, when the industry was pretty much in gloom and doom mode. If the Chinese government's efforts to prop up tourism flows the area indeed work out, the low valuation of these stocks could propel them a lot higher in the near future.

Conclusion

With the might of the Chinese government coming to the rescue, investors seem considerably more bullish on US casino stocks with Macau exposure than they have been in a long time. Any efforts to boost tourism to the area will of course be very welcome to casino operators who have been suffering from collapsing demand for more than a year. Currently trading at attractive multiples, Las Vegas Sands and Wynn could be looking forward to some tangible upside as we head into the end of the year. As such, investors willing to take a gamble on some increased volatility could be rewarded.


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