As more and more attention is put on a slowing China, several stocks that tend to move on Chinese news require some consistent homework. Since one cannot mention Macau, the gaming capital of China that would like to threaten Las Vegas for the world title, without discussing Las Vegas Sands (LVS), a closer look shows that LVS will be a consistently good performer through at least 2013.
LVS reported earnings on July 24th, missing Bloomberg estimates of 68 cents per share by 3 cents, clocking in at 65 cents per share. LVS also missed Bloomberg estimates on revenues, reporting 3.24 billion vs. the 3.28 estimate. Reading the earnings call transcript, however, gives a fuller picture of how LVS performed over the last quarter. Noting record visits to Macau properties in the quarter, CEO Sheldon Adelson announced a 40% increase in visits from the year ago quarter, with the EBITDA reaching a record $657.2 million across the properties. Interestingly, Adelson proclaimed a "whopping" increase of 60.1% growth in the "mass table growth" market in Macau. Indeed, the Venetian Macau reported its finest quarter in its history, with the high rolling chip drop increasing 56%. These numbers should allay fears about how a slowdown in China may affect Macau's numbers, as LVS continued to post record highs on higher visitation numbers. Not to be outdone, domestically, Las Vegas showed 8% growth.
One should see LVS as a value and growth story, paying out a respectable 2.5% dividend, having rewarded shareholders with over $4 billion in dividends and stock repurchases, and announcing in its call that it would begin another $2 billion stock repurchase program. And just like fellow Macau titan Wynn Resorts (WYNN), LVS paid a $2.75 per share special dividend in winter 2012, as CEO Adelson could not wait to reward shareholders ahead of possible dividend tax increases. Whether the tax cut legislation played as a big role as others speculated, LVS has rewarded, and will continue to reward, shareholders, as its balance sheet remains flush with cash.
In 2012, the stock rose nearly 23% from its July lows to end at around $45 dollars a share. So far in 2013, LVS is up nearly 22% already, sitting at around $56 dollars a share today. With good fundamentals, LVS has been catalyzed by positive economic news, including housing sector news, as more often than not the city of Las Vegas, and Nevada more generally, is among the highest month over month and year over year median price increases. More homeowners are getting on the right side of equity on their loans, and the economic picture appears to be improving, albeit from among the hardest hit from the housing crash.
Another obvious catalyst for the stock has been the numbers coming out of Macau, which accounts for 58% of its overall sales. Being a big player in an area with strong growth has helped LVS reward shareholders with strong returns since the recession. Although Macau benefits from high rollers visiting the casinos, the extent the upper class Chinese are affected by the economy's current trajectory could taper some of the expected growth numbers. However, from the latest quarterly earnings, investors can see that the mass market table win is up significantly year over year, growing from $30 million in the year ago quarter to $114 million, indicating expansion rather than any contraction (in fact, leading EVP Rob Goldstein to explain that "I think the staggering growth in Macao continues and we are the leaders in the mass segment."). It is also currently positioning itself for even more growth, as its Parisian Macau casino is under construction and slated for completion in 2015.
A slowing Chinese economy will surely play a role in how the market values the stock. Additionally, a US economy that could keep improving, with Nevada and Las Vegas having a long way to come, may help LVS domestic numbers with surprises to the upside. This dynamic is sure to push the stock higher and lower as the economic picture becomes clearer on both ends. The fact that you are paid a nice dividend will be icing on the cake if LVS continues to outperform the market.
DISCLOSURE: I am long LVS and WYNN.