Financial

Melco Resorts Debt Could Swell to $7 Billion Warns Moody’s

Melco Resorts & Entertainment (NASDAQ:MLCO) could see its debt burden balloon over the next 12 to 18 months. That’s as the pace of recovery in the world’s largest casino center remains lethargic. The company is one of the six concessionaires in the special administrative region (SAR) of Macau.

Melco Chairman and CEO Lawrence Ho, seen here in 2015. Moody’s is concerned about the company’s rising debt levels. (Image: Bloomberg)

That’s the view of Moody’s Investors Service, which commented on the City of Dreams operator’s finances after its Melco Resorts Finance issued senior unsecured notes earlier this week. The research firm rates those bonds, which mature in 2029, Ba2 with a “negative” outlook. Any of the three Ba grades indicate “speculative elements and are subject to substantial credit risk.”

Melco’s operations continue to be weak amid lingering pandemic-related disruptions. The company reported negative earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of $221 million for the first nine months of 2020, compared with $1.2 billion positive EBITDA a year earlier,” said Moody’s in a note.

In addition to the City of Dreams, Melco’s Macau operations include Altira Macau, Studio City, and Mocha Clubs.

Pesky Debt Increase

Analysts expect the Macau recovery will gain steam in the second half of this year. For now, though, improvements are merely incremental.

Moody’s says the rebound pace will be sluggish for most of this year because of travel restrictions and social distancing protocols at the SAR’s gaming properties. Currently, Macau is only allowing visitors from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan to enter the SAR. As such, the research firm believes it will be 2022-23 before gross gaming revenue there returns to pre-pandemic levels. That lethargy could be a drag on Melco, particularly with rising debt levels.

“At the same time, Moody’s expects MRE’s consolidated debt level (including lease liabilities and Moody’s adjustments) will increase to around $7 billion over the next 12-18 months from $6.1 billion as of 30 September 2020, as the company’s sluggish cash flow and planned capital spending,” according to the ratings agency.

Expenditures for Studio City and its gaming venue in Cyprus could limit Meclo’s free cash flow, notes the research firm.

Concerning Ratios

Owing to the increasing debt burden, Melco’s “adjusted debt/EBITDA will be elevated at around 10x or higher in 2021, before improving to around 5x-6x in 2022 and around 4x in 2023,” says Moody’s.

That 2023 ratio is appropriate for similarly rated companies and the “negative” outlook reflects risks, including a longer-than-expected recovery timeline in Macau and dwindling cash flow. Melco’s balance sheet is in decent shape with $1.9 billion in cash and access to another $1.9 billion in credit.

Even with the aforementioned risks, analysts like the stock on the basis of below peer evaluations and the absence of concession renewal risk. As an Asian company, Melco doesn’t face the potential licensing renewal headwinds when that issue comes up in 2022 that American rivals Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts could encounter.

Todd Shriber

Gaming Financials, Casino Business----Todd Shriber got his start in financial markets as a reporter with Bloomberg News. Later, he became a trader at a Southern California-based long/short hedge fund, where he specialized in trading sector and international ETFs leading up to and during the financial crisis. Currently, he analyzes, researches, and writes on ETFs for a variety of Web-based publications and financial services firms. Shriber has been quoted in Barron's, CNBC.com, and The Wall Street Journal. His work has been published on sites such as Benzinga, ETF Daily News, ETF Trends, MarketWatch, Fox Business, and Nasdaq.com. He joined the Casino.org news writing team in 2019, and lives in Southern California, where he enjoys golf and taking his black lab to the dog park. When in Las Vegas, he likes to wager on college football, the NBA, three-card poker, and roulette, even though he knows better. Email: todd.shriber@casino.org

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Todd Shriber