Casino stocks soar as world’s gambling capital eases travel restrictions

Casino stocks rallied as the easing of some Chinese travel restrictions for Macau sparked optimism of a revival in the world’s largest gambling hub.

China’s Guangdong province agreed to lift quarantine requirements for travelers returning from neighboring Macau, making it easier for gamblers to cross the border. Galaxy Entertainment Group and Sands China Ltd. rose more than 4% in Hong Kong on Tuesday, leading gains on the Hang Seng Index. Wynn Macau Ltd. was up as much as 16%, set for its best day since 2011. SJM Holdings Ltd. and Melco International Development Ltd. increased at least 6% as of 10:24 a.m.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. expects gross gaming revenue to improve to 20%-25% of 2019 levels following the border opening with further relaxing of travel restrictions expected. That could include allowing residents to skip 14-day quarantine measures when entering borders outside of Guangdong from Macau.

“We expect some pent-up demand to materialize in Macau fairly rapidly as travel restrictions come down,” Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Vitaly Umansky said in a note. While people coming from outside Guangdong will still have a hard time visiting Macau, “the overall trend is moving in the right direction.”

Bloomberg Intelligence Index for Macau casinos surged as much as 12%. U.S. casino stocks rallied overnight with MGM Resorts International up as much as 6.8%, and Melco Resorts & Entertainment’s U.S. shares jumping 18%.

The agreement with Guangdong, announced on Monday, will remove the 14-day quarantine requirement put in place by the province in late March to stem the coronavirus pandemic. That measure effectively cut off Chinese travel to the gambling enclave, leaving baccarat and roulette tables virtually empty.

The restriction will be lifted on July 15 at 6 a.m. local time. Travelers will still need to get a virus test before they go.

The easing of restrictions should provide much-needed relief to Macau’s casino industry, which saw gaming revenue plunge by more than 90% for three straight months as the highly infectious pathogen forced countries to shut borders. The lifting of quarantine requirements will now allow high-roller Chinese gamblers, the enclave’s lifeblood, to return freely.

Macau’s gross domestic product, heavily reliant on the tourism and gaming industry, shrank 49% in the first quarter of this year. Even though casino operators reopened after an unprecedented 15-day shutdown in February, travel curbs meant tourists and high rollers couldn’t get there. Morgan Stanley estimated that the industry is losing $15 million daily in expenses.

The casino takings could recover gradually to about 15% to 25% of the pre-Covid level in the near germ, given only Guangdong province, which accounts for about 40% travelers into Macau, will be reopened and no re-issuance of the travel visa yet, said Credit Suisse gaming analysts led by Kenneth Fong in a note Monday.

“Macau government has been actively working with the Zhuhai government to resume the traffic flow,” the note said, “But the progress has been slow with the resurgence of new cases in Hong Kong.”

While Macau has largely contained the coronavirus outbreak and just got good news of border relaxation, neighboring Hong Kong is tightening virus measures to limit social gathering. Schools have been ordered into an “early summer holiday,” while restaurants and bars limit the number of patrons. Events including Hong Kong’s week-long book fair and the champion awards dinner by the Jockey Club have been canceled, and Walt Disney Co. said on Monday that it was temporarily shutting down Hong Kong Disneyland on July 15.

Investors and analysts are hoping China will now take further steps to ease the resumption of visitor flow, including lifting its freeze on the individual and group tourist visas that middle-class Chinese use to travel to Macau.

Macau has detected only a handful of coronavirus cases since April.

“We would expect that if the new policies are implemented well for some time with no contagion, the travel restrictions will continue to be loosened,” Bernstein’s Umansky said.

With the border relaxation as the first positive step of easing policies, analysts now have higher hopes for the National Day Holiday in October to bring back traffic. Citigroup Inc. expects the golden week, which is still about 10 weeks away, will be a positive driver for Macau visits, as there’ll still be limited safe travel destination options for Chinese visitors at that time.

“We remain hopeful that this Golden Week will be more “Golden” than usual for Macau if more non-Guangdong provinces and Hong Kong are added to the bubble before the Golden Week starts,” George Choi, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Citigroup Inc., wrote in a note after the government announcement.

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