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Macau casino profit set for surge toward pre-crackdown high

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Macau, the world's largest gambling hub, is on its way to seeing casino profits surge toward highs set before a Chinese government corruption crackdown drove wealthy high-rollers away.

[MACAU] Macau, the world's largest gambling hub, is on its way to seeing casino profits surge toward highs set before a Chinese government corruption crackdown drove wealthy high-rollers away.

More than two years after the Chinese restrictions sent profits tumbling, some analysts estimate that the Macau industry's earnings could again start approaching records next year before hitting a new peak in 2019. Of course, any unexpected policy changes out of Beijing could crimp growth. But for now, the average forecast is for gaming revenue to rise 14 per cent next year, a Bloomberg survey of 10 analysts shows.

VIP gamers are expected to be the biggest driver. But a flood of leisure tourists are also likely to pour in as glitzy new casinos and attractions open on Cotai - Macau's equivalent of the Las Vegas strip. The four graphics offer a snapshot of Macau's prospects in 2018 and beyond, and potential winners and stragglers among the casino operators.

In 2018, two new casinos from the local unit of MGM Resorts International and Hong Kong's SJM Holdings Ltd are set to open in Cotai. With that, all six Macau operators will have a presence on the strip that the industry has sought to transform into a family-friendly zone. The investments in European-themed resorts and fancy spas are poised to boost profitability even more next year as the companies attract more "mass-market" gamblers. These leisure tourists offer higher margins to companies because they don't need perks like private jets or discounted hotel rooms. Visitors to the city will rise 7 per cent next year, Deutsche Bank AG estimates.

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MGM China Holdings Ltd rose as much as 5.3 per cent in early Hong Kong trading on Wednesday, Sands China Ltd. added as much as 3.9 per cent, while Wynn Macau Ltd, SJM and Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd jumped more than 2 per cent. The benchmark Hang Seng Index fell as much as 0.3 per cent.

In January, MGM China opens a casino which will boast 1,400 hotel rooms, a theater that can seat 2,000 people and even one of the world's biggest chocolate fountains. The US$3.3 billion resort will relieve pressure on the company, which has been losing market share, and Deutsche Bank analyst Karen Tang estimates the firm's revenue will grow more than 70 per cent in 2018.

Still, both MGM and SJM are latecomers to Cotai and "likely to face stiff competition," said Daiwa Capital Markets Hong Kong Ltd's analyst Jamie Soo. By his estimates, both will stay far behind larger players like Sands China and Galaxy Entertainment Group in overall market share.

The last entrant on Cotai, SJM, has been the biggest market share loser in recent years and could drop further behind in 2018.

The big four-Sands, Galaxy, Wynn Macau and Melco Resorts & Entertainment -are likely to stay fairly stable in their market share. The largest two, Sands and Galaxy, are each expected to increase adjusted Ebitda, or earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, by at least 11 per cent next year over 2017 forecasts, analyst data compiled by Bloomberg show.

There are risks, of course. Macau could see another slowdown if there are any unexpected pressures on the Chinese economy and consumer spending, or if Beijing makes any unforeseen moves to curb capital outflows.

At the moment, though, analysts are predicting steady growth for 2018. Morgan Stanley analysts, for instance, project the sector's earnings could rise to about US$8.4 billion in 2018 before reaching an all-time high of US$9.6 billion in 2019.

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