Las Vegas Sands Has Hot Hand Among Casino Operators

Dec.22.10 | About: Las Vegas (LVS)

By Stephanie Grimmett

Las Vegas Sands Corp. (NYSE:LVS) has gained more than 200% this year, rising from $14.94 at the beginning of January 2010 to close yesterday (Tuesday) at $47.23.

Given that spectacular run, you might think that the LVS play is over - but it's not. In fact, investors would be wise to keep their money on the table. And here's why.

Originating with the famous Sands Hotel in 1952, Las Vegas Sands has expanded into the luxury casino resort market in recent years, opening The Venetian Las Vegas resort in 1999.
In the decade since then, the company has taken its Venetian model and used it to build six more luxury casino resorts worldwide: Three off China's southern coast in Macau, a second in Las Vegas and one each in Singapore (opened in April) and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. And the company's aggressive building strategy was providing excellent returns before the credit crunch. Las Vegas Sands' net revenue in 2007 reached $2.95 billion - a 31.9% year-over-year increase.

Of course, the financial crisis cut short the company's plans to start construction on three new resorts in the thriving resort city of Macau. The plans had to be shelved in 2008 when the company was left without financing for the project. Delays also drew out the opening date and inflated construction costs on its Marina Bay Sands casino complex in Singapore.

Making Money in Macau

LVS found better luck in 2010. Having opened its Singapore resort in April, Las Vegas Sands began to recoup some of its $6.1 billion investment. The Marina Bay Sands pulled in $414.5 million in revenue in its first full quarter of operation (the third quarter of 2010).

The initial public offering (IPO) of Las Vegas Sands' Macau subsidiary, Sands China Ltd., on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange brought the company $2.5 billion in late 2009. And part of the IPO earnings ($500 million), along with $1.75 billion in financing, allowed LVS to begin work on its long-delayed construction of three new Macau casinos.

The Macau Special Administrative Region is a small peninsula and two islands off the coast of China. Its status allows for gambling, which is illegal in mainland China. While it's less than one-tenth the size of Las Vegas, Macau's casinos generate more than twice as much gambling revenue as the Las Vegas Strip. From January-September of 2010, casino gambling in the Chinese administrative region grossed $16.65 billion.

To make some more room for itself, Macau reclaimed a tiny section of land that connects the region to its two southern islands - Coloane and Taipa - and the Cotai Strip was born.

Las Vegas Sands plans to turn Cotai into a Chinese version of the Vegas Strip. Before 2008, the company constructed and opened two of its five planned resort casinos to anchor the new strip.

A shortage of workers has slowed the company's building efforts, but they haven't stopped. And the Asian gaming market is worth the investment. During the third quarter of this year, LVS's Asian properties brought in net revenue of $1.55 billion.

Asia will represent 40% of the world's gaming revenue, generating $62.9 billion yearly by 2014, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. In Macau alone, revenue is forecast to grow 25% per year for the next five years. And Las Vegas Sands will be there to meet the rising demand.

Analyst estimates have LVS earnings gaining 73.5% in 2011, with earnings growth averaging 23.1% in 2012-2013. So, look for continued expansion in Las Vegas Sands and in the company's share price.

Disclosure: No positions

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