Macau Recovery Moving Along, Expect Frequent Updates, Says Jefferies

Posted on: July 31, 2020, 11:44h. 

Last updated on: July 31, 2020, 02:05h.

Amid a flurry of recently positive travel news, Macau is on the right track when it comes to gaming industry recovery from the coroanvirus pandemic. But there’s still work to be done, and investors should brace for a steady stream of news over the coming months, according to investment bank Jefferies.

Macau Travel Restrictions Will Improve, Analysts Predict
The Grand Lisboa in Macau. Analysts expect news flow on travel restrictions will improve and be brisk over the near-term. (Image: Bloomberg)

Earlier this month, Guangdong province scrapped its 14-day quarantine policy previously applied to travelers arriving from Macau. This week, it was reported that Chinese officials will resume issuing travel permits for mainland residents seeking entry to the gaming hub for academic, business, and family purposes.

The visa news is widely viewed as a positive. But Beijing continues holding off on lifting a freeze on individual visit scheme (IVS) permits — the pass that half of Chinese nationals use to enter Macau.

The Macau recovery remains dependent on IVS, but we expect this to be a gradual and phased reissuance on an individual Chinese city-by-city within each province,” according to Jefferies.

Confounding the investment community and Chinese tourists alike, Beijing is providing no visibility as to when IVS issuance will restart.

Fortnight of News Flow

With much more still to be accomplished on the travel front, experts see a steady stream of updates ahead, perhaps as frequently as every two weeks.

“So, first of all, in July, Guangdong province quarantine was lifted for these cities,” said MGM China President Hubert Wang on a July 30 conference call. “And then, yes, (on July 29) the quarantine was lifted for entire Guangdong province. And the news came out also that non-tourist visas are to be issued on August 12. So you can see a pattern that every two weeks, there are some new developments and loosening of the border restrictions.”

Wang called those “magic steps” that could lead up to IVS resumption, something the executive sees happening as soon as mid-September. However, travel between Macau and Hong Kong remains restricted because of a recent flareup in COVID-19 cases in the latter. Hong Kong is the second-largest feeder market to the gaming hub after Guangdong.

Resuming IVS issuance is also crucial for stoking more visits from Guangdong because nearly three-quarters of the travelers from that province to Macau last year used IVS permits.

Can’t Get Much Worse

The gaming industry is in the midst of its second-quarter earnings season, one that will likely amount to a brutal stretch for Macau concessionaires.

Several Macau operators, including Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS), Melco Resorts & Entertainment (NASDAQ:MLCO), and MGM already reported, doing nothing to allay speculation that the April through June period of 2020 will be the worst stretch in terms of losses since the special administrative region (SAR) opened to foreign competition in 2002.

Still, the investment community consensus is that Macau will recover more rapidly than Las Vegas, with analysts saying the Chinese territory will get back to 2019 capacity levels in 2022, while Sin City won’t look like its pre-pandemic self again until 2023.