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Melco PBL Entertainment Ltd. (NASDAQ:MPEL)

Q3 2007 Earnings Call

November 14, 2007 8:30 am ET

Executives

Simon Dewhurst - Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President

Lawrence Ho - Chief Executive Officer and Co-Chairman

Garry Saunders - Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President

Greg Hawkins - Chief Executive Officer of Crown Macau

Ted Chan - Chief Executive Officer of Mocha

Jamie Douglas - Co-Chairman

Analysts

Grant Chum - UBS

Anil Daswani - Citigroup

Larry Kaufman - Jefferies

Bill Lerner - Deutsche Bank

Cameron Hight - JPMorgan

Billy - JPMorgan

Grant Chum - UBS

Operator

Good day, ladies and gentlemen and welcome. Thank you for participating in the Third Quarter 2007 Earnings Conference Call of Melco PBL Entertainment Limited. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. After the call, we will conduct a question-and-answer session. Today's conference is being recorded.

I would now like to turn the call over to Simon Dewhurst, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Melco PBL Entertainment. Please proceed sir.

Simon Dewhurst

Good morning and thank you for joining us today for our third quarter earnings announcement and especially to those of you who’re joining us early in the morning from G2E in Las Vegas.

On the call with me this morning is Lawrence Ho, Garry Saunders, Greg Hawkins, Ted Chan and Jamie Douglas. Please note that today's discussion may contain forward-looking statements made under the Safe Harbor provision of Federal Securities Laws.

Please see today's press release under the section Safe Harbor statement for a discussion of risks that may affect our results. We are reporting a bit earlier than we have previously anticipated. We’ve decided to accelerate our reporting time table in order to move to an open trading window in our shares for affiliate parties the earliest opportunity following our equity placement, which is completed at the end of last month.

By now, you‘ve had a chance to take a look at the release. So we won’t spend a lot of time reiterating the details of our third quarter results on the call, which continues to trade the progressive development of our business. After some brief comments from Garry, we'll open the call up for Q&A.

So now I'd like to turn the call over to our Chief Operating Officer, Garry Saunders.

Garry Saunders

Thank you for joining us today. We continue to be encouraged by the progress we are making at Crown Macau and believes there is still a considerable amount of additional improvement in volume and profitability as a property and to be executed on our strategy to expand our presence in the VIP market.

We believe MPEL’s total market share during the third quarter improved sequentially from around 5% in July to 7.5% in August. And on a whole adjustment basis, they were essentially flat through September in spite the opening of the largest Casino Resort in Macau in late August.

I’ll let Simon provide additional detail on the impact of low table game over on our operations shortly. With the end of the third quarter and based on our estimates, our market share performance continues to improve with our total market share exceeding 8% in October, which is seasonally strong one with golden week.

We believe that third and fourth quarters of this year is a transitional periods as we continued the property to accommodate additional VIP capacity with a commenced rate reduction and mass market in gaming capacity. This reconfiguration is expected to be completed by the end of this month.

Last week, we announced that we had entered into a Gaming Promotion agreement with Ama International. We are convinced that this arrangement have the potential to dramatically accelerate our efforts to improve our market share, and improve EBITDA performance and ROI at Crown Macau.

As Crown is the only dedicated VIP property in the market capabilities that Ama provides are in perfect set. The key to Ama is not commission rates but the ability to provide liquidity and working capital to Ama’s affiliating gaming collaborators. Junket commissions in Macau are not affected at the fixed groom junket operator level.

A-Max a company affiliated with Ama is in the final stages of raising its capital, which remains a prerequisite with the commencement of Ama’s operations at Crown Macau. Consequently, we will not get to any discussion on the status of this fund raising exercise.

Though our agreement with Ama represents a meaningful acceleration of our strategic focus at Crown Macau, we have continued to sign agreements with other junket operators in the market so as to organically expand our market share. To date we have negotiated with over 20 Gaming Promotion Agreements at Crown.

Overall, we remain very bullish about the prospects at Crown Macau and believe we've a wining strategy for driving the emerging multi night stay markets with City of Dreams. We remain on the lookout for additional opportunities at Macau and believe that while it is currently too really to making any announcement we continue to be a promising new development opportunities that we will pursue on the ongoing quarters.

Now I'll turn it back over to Simon

Simon Dewhurst

Thanks Garry. With our recently completed equity offering and taking together with the liquidity, which we believe will be able to generate from the monetization of real estate to both City of Dreams and the Macau Peninsula projects we expect that our current development pipeline is substantially funded and we're in a position financially to review additional opportunities as they arise.

It has been an important part of our development strategy through 2007, the structure at financing into this position. As we mentioned in our recent fillings with the SEC, Crown Macau experienced unusually low holds in September of 1.3% and as a result, our pay holds for the first quarter came in at 2.4%, below our 2.7% property hold.

Normalizing from new hold, our adjusted EBITDA at Crown Macau, would have been positive U.S.$2.7 million and company wide adjusted EBITDA would have been positive U.S.$3.3 million in the third quarter.

While we get started with the Q&A. I would like to remind everybody there our policy is not to give any false guidance and we are going to continue with that policy for the indefinite future, which is consistent with our U.S. listed gaming company.

Operator, we are now ready to open the call for question. Thank you.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions)

Lawrence Ho

Okay. We’ll take them in the order they are in.

Operator

Thank you. And your first question comes from the line of Grant Chum with UBS. Please proceed.

Grant Chum - UBS

Hi. Good evening everyone. First question is just on the cost structure at the Crown Macau. So, it sounds like you’re saying adjustment EBITDA of $2.7 million on a revenue base of somewhere over $100 million I suspect adjusting for the hold. That still looks like a very low EBITDA margin giving the revenue base.

Is there more you can do to the cost structure at the Crown to improve that return on revenues? Or is it just the case of waiting for the revenues to really pick-up post the Ama deal to really fix the margin of the Crown?

Greg Hawkins

Hi it’s Greg Hawkins, I'll respond to that. I think its probably barred compliance, which you indicated.

Obviously, we’re focusing very much on the revenue growth by nature of the potential Ama deal and the ongoing approach to adding more VIP business into the property through a further junk of deals and pushing that premium international aspect of the business through our variations with the Crown international network.

But very much top-line focus that being said as a relatively new business moping into a more mature business is opportunity for us to look at rationalization in productivity of labor and the number of the activities across the property from our life expected in general overview of the cost structure of the business.

So I think, primarily focused on significant revenue growth. But in a responsible management teams looking at use of our labor in particular. When we understand some of the further dynamics of our total demand coming through and of course on going review with the cost structure that will occur.

Greg Hawkins

I don’t want to get into breaking down the quarter into the constituent month. But there is a quite a fatigue gradient in terms of the EBITDA contribution that comes through September as compared with July across the month and not really is as the volume applies leveraged into the property during the course of the three months period. And obviously we are working on a strategy, which substantially expands that going forward from here.

Grant Chum - UBS

Okay. And just for house keeping, Greg, how many FTE employees are their now at the Crown? And how does that number compare with when you first open?

Greg Hawkins

We have taken on Board a number of incremental FTEs in the title gaming here recently. And I think in preparation for the expanded gaming activity we anticipate in next three month so kindly we are just over the 40,00 FTE labor for the property.

About two months ago we were tracking in about 3,700. So in incremental we’re about 2,000 which we see is a directly caller added to anticipating increasing the VIP gaming demand coming through.

Grant Chum - UBS

Great. That’s very helpful. Thanks.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Anil Daswani with Citigroup, Hong Kong. Please proceed.

Anil Daswani - Citigroup

Hi, guys. Just wanted to check with you, if you could give us some guidance on how things have gone in October and November first and foremost, and clearly there are signs that the horde should have improved, since that horrible month back in September.

And secondly with Ama, if all goes smoothly, what is the earliest you think, you’d be able to get, then actually playing at our facility and generating some revenues that you’ll facilitate?

And third, you eluded to this at the very, very beginning. How soon would it be before your parent Melco and PBL can’t prove their SPV actually and start buying shares now that you’ve announced your results?

Simon Dewhurst

Anil, hi. It’s Simon Dewhurst. Just in terms of the sequential improvement that we've seen in the property and strong into October and we've already given some color on that in our prepared remarks at the start of this call.

I think, that November seasonally is a weaker month as compared with October. October, obviously, has golden week in it to the start. And we've seen a little bit of seasonal drop-off as consequence of that.

I also think that it will be reasonable for us to assume into November, but we should see a little bit of impact, as we go through the final stage that we configuration in the property. So, our absolute numbers in November, a little bit off, but in terms of the overall trend of the property we’re very satisfied with it.

And certainly we’re looking forward to engage with an expanded VIP junket partnership base in the short-term. That leads me on to your second question when feasibly today and the market in the property at the earliest. The property will be ready till then by the end of this month.

I would anticipate even our understanding of settlements around their placements plan. That we would see them at the earliest in the property around about middle of December of this year. We’re guiding, that we would expect the (inaudible) by the end of this year.

And then to your final question, with regards to the SPV. I understand that the window, trading window rules require for net to be a two full days of trading and as said window opens from the third day. So that would indicate that our earnings across the lines back Friday of this week, but much be on that, I can’t possibly comment is what the SPVs plans or aspirations might be announced.

Anil Daswani - Citigroup

Thanks very much.

Operator

And your next question comes from the line of Larry Kaufman (ph) with Jefferies. Please proceed.

Larry Kaufman - Jefferies

Close. Hi guys, couple of things. In other way, someone else ask the question but what would be your rolling chip hold, since September 30. As if, you are saying its few points since opening, but is it rolling chip hold more of the normal numbers for the last month and a half.

Simon Dewhurst

Hi, Larry. Simon Dewhurst, again. I think that again, I don’t think we want to get into too much specific in terms of fourth quarter cover at this stage. But certainly, we’re seeing a reasonably broad volatility in terms of our hold for month-to-months and that’s to be anticipated.

We don’t have a Crown Macau, the stabilizing effect also a balance split between VIP and Max play. In the property, we’re very distorted, very specifically so to the VIP and where volatility tend to exist.

We would substantially above theoretical hold in October and November sales up from what we’ve seen. We’re back slightly underneath theoretical. So it’s balancing around and that’s basically what we would expect.

Larry Kaufman - Jefferies

All right. That’s fair. As far as the bad hold and if I’m calculating it right, if you’ll have two several set at Q3 that cost you about $19 million revenues, which given the high tax rate, would given you about $11 million, $12 million more of EBITDA, which means the Crown would have had positive EBITDA. Am I doing that right?

Simon Dewhurst

Yeah. I think, you have just come-up with pretty much the numbers that I gave to you in the opening remark. You’ve got adjusted side slightly for the differential win between the wins for the revenue share versus commission base as about another U.S.$ 1million of theoretical addition to your calculation.

Larry Kaufman - Jefferies

Okay. If you are talking more like almost $13 million so, okay that’s good as far as the additional junket operator deals’04 for the Ama you’re going give them a higher fees structure return for a large block of VIP. Are you going to be giving any of this other operators higher then the 1% to 1.2%?

Simon Dewhurst

I think, actually Larry I think its launched here. I think even on the Ama thing, I think, it’s important to distinct that Ama is actually non-junket operator to a junket aggregator. So they are the liquidity provider to all that.

And therefore base on our understanding Ama giving, are giving their own sub-junket operators the same commission rate, which is to 1.2 and therefore from -- you maybe if Greg can comment on the deals that we are continue to be striking?

Greg Hawkins

Sure. Beyond the IMI as discussed we continue to look for further junket another partnership in the VIP segment moving forward. We do not have any plans to raise anymore the current commission rights we have in the markets.

We’ll be reviewing the models that are applied in terms of commission wise versus revenue share that we expect the existing fixture in junket operators and potential junket operators moving forward to beyond the current rate structure we have in place.

Larry Kaufman - Jefferies

All right. And then as far as the Ama goes, what would be your hope of increase in rolling chip volume from that deals and do you think you can get as much as $80 million to $100 million more of VIP monthly volume? Guys.

Operator

For any interruption, this is the operator. Please standby.

Larry Kaufman - Jefferies

Can you here me? Hello?

Operator

For any interruptions, ladies and gentlemen, the speaker has drop the line and they’ll calling in just one moment. Ladies and gentlemen, please standby they’ll be calling in just a moment.

Larry Kaufman - Jefferies

Can you hear me?

Simon Dewhurst

Yes. Start Lawrence.

Larry Kaufman - Jefferies

Yes. I am sorry. As far as the numbers, do you believe that they are simply indicating you, they may give you much as $80 to $100 billion monthly. Is that something you think it's reasonable?

Simon Dewhurst

Larry, again this is Simon. I mean certainly, that there are two ways that we can look at this, we can either look at it from our own business sense perspective and looking what sort of volumes under this type of business proposal, business structure make sense for Crown Macau.

And it is at the level which is substantially less than the volume that are credited to the junket arrangement for Ama is been a successfully standup or signup, alternatively you can look at some point of due diligence that we've done on that.

We performed that due diligence over the course of the last couple of months on there, and we think that the claims that they make in terms of the volume applied that exit in the market place today that is brought underneath this umbrella are credible. And so, on either accounts its positive from our perspective.

Lawrence Ho

Larry its Lawrence, I think it’s also very important to note that, unless the A-Max or Ama achieved our agreed threshold, which are quite beyond what the market range is. They actually now get their maximum commission of 1.35 and therefore I think whether as Ama the sub chunked or even I, we’re all motivated and think with regard to our interest.

Simon Dewhurst

Yeah. And if I can just, preamp a follow on conversation, a follow-on question that we’re often asked here. Its focused in an around an analysis of cannibalization and they don’t see if we fixated on there.

There is a significant amount of incremental liquidity that’s been brought to the market through daily settlement of commission. And I don’t think that the market is probably comprehended, what impact that will have in terms of absolutely growing the marketplace.

So we don’t see the all of the dollar commitment that exist in the underlying agreement is cannibalized from elsewhere and from other property, a substantial portion highly likely will result from the fact the players will play more if they given credit.

Larry Kaufman - Jefferies

Okay, that’s that is fair. Another question would be you told that the City of Dreams and seems like its on time and you gave some timing, you didn’t mentioned the budget does that mean we represent -- remain the same?

Simon Dewhurst

Yes. We’re still operating Larry, on to the joint centers, we’re still operating on time, on budget. It’s a large project, daily challenges, but we’re very confident on our construction team that we have as they continue to move this on time and on budget.

Larry Kaufman - Jefferies

All right. Now last thing, I know you guys don’t give guidance, but almost every company give some basic non-operating numbers and with this CapEx of fourth quarter and capitalized interest and corporate expense continue in the third or, just some kind of indication?

Simon Dewhurst

Yes. Quite, frankly, I don’t have any of those numbers for the fourth quarter on me, but we’ll report those numbers in our fourth quarter earnings.

Larry Kaufman - Jefferies

Right. But a lot of companies give events; on the third quarter they give an indication what they think the fourth quarter might be, just for those non-operating numbers?

Simon Dewhurst

Well, as I said, Larry, I don’t have those numbers on me and I’m not going to speculate at this stage.

Larry Kaufman - Jefferies

Okay. That’s fair. Well, thanks a lot guys.

Simon Dewhurst

Thanks, Larry.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Bill Lerner with Deutsche Bank. Please proceed.

Bill Lerner - Deutsche Bank

Thanks. Hi, guys. Two questions; one on, can you just comment on this sort of volume initiative from Crown, properties in Australia, sort of, how is that going? How early is it? What’s kind of, what’s been the experience?

And the other guys is just a harp on Ama for a second. There seems to be just blanket concern, frankly without a lot of depth, so I don’t think anybody knows about them potentially not been able to funded and what that mean, so can you just talk up, can you just color than in a little bit obviously, some of that you try to enhance, but how much funding is sort of needed, to sort of move to needle for you guys? You know what I mean?

Simon Dewhurst

Bill, I’ll answer your second question first, and then we might ask for a clarification in terms of your first question, Simon Dewhurst again. And just in terms of Ama’s fund raising, our understanding is that, they will be thinking to place and now approved up by the Hong Kong Stock Exchange to proceed with a placement, that’s in the region of $350 million, $370 million.

And so, that’s placing aspiration and you’ll understand given that I think they’ve either launch today or they’re about to launch tomorrow, there road-show marketing activities around that, that I can’t really say any more in terms of what our expectations are with regards to that. Bill can I just ask you to repeat your first question it seems to be related to Australia.

Bill Lerner - Deutsche Bank

Sure Simon. Yeah, I was just asking, just generally you know how is the sort of cross market initiative going and obviously you got the data base relationships in Australia and that part of strategy clearly is to bring some of that volume to Crown early on such I was asking to color that a little bit?

Lawrence Ho

It’s great. Ho here, I’ll respond to that. It’s progressing positively. So I wanted the positives which we had in terms of our structure is access for those international sales offers which Crown International operate across you know Southeast Asia. Is that as Crown Macau basically was fully completed late July early August that is really the activation time just to push the button on the database access of both customers into Crown Macau.

So we are seeing growth in that segment coming through, its particular focus for the size of network channeling business of proximity of Crown Macau to a large number of those customers, but its good in terms of inbound platform, so we see a fairly more activity into 2008 to provide further incentives for those customers, further access opportunities into Crown Macau. So, a solid base with potential for further growth significant growth into ’08.

Bill Lerner - Deutsche Bank

Okay. Thanks guys.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Cameron Hight (ph) with JPMorgan. Please proceed.

Cameron Hight - JPMorgan

Good day guys. Couple of question if I may; first of all, your hold was relatively low through September with the equity rising now complete, how much of the funds rise are you allocating against, are you allocating at Crown in the event that you have one or two months or even a couple of quarters where holders relatively low?

Simon Dewhurst

Yes. Hi Cameron it’s Simon. There is no requirement for us to alter any working capital, the existing Crown Macau the consequence of that trading performance in September or indeed, if we had a few more months that were similar in terms of fairly expecting that.

So there is absolutely no requirement for us to transfer fund that we raised in the placement down into our Bank Lending Group, which is where the bank facility fits and where Crown Macau fits.

Cameron Hight - JPMorgan

Although if the Ama business comes on Board through December and January and let say at 40 build over all the months, you hold 2.3% isn’t a possible that you could possible also Crown. So, just trying to get an idea of, in your budgeting whether it’s at the corporate or subsidiary level, how much capital you believe you need to potentially absorb those losses?

Simon Dewhurst

We hold the capital down after property. But that we’ve ejected into it and that we will generate through that property. And it's a subsidiary question rather than a holding company question. We do not based on the forecast that we have done, we do not project a scenario even in the situations you describe with a quarter of 2.3%.

We do not project a scenario where we would be required to place additional working capital down to that subsidiary level under our forecast assuming full Imax operations in the property.

Lawrence Ho

Cameron, its Lawrence here, I think obviously, I think the point that you head on is absolutely correct that, since Crown Macau is going to be predominately focused on VIP, there might be volatile months where we might not even hold 2.cents. We might have negative months for a few months.

And I think the secondary offering is important although there are a lending group and holding company subsidiary levels, different level, in terms of where the cash flow is. But I think secondary offering obviously we did it mainly to fund continental hotels of apartments at City of Dreams for us to pursue new opportunities and offer to complete trinity.

I mean the Macau Peninsula Project and to get that funded and also to give up some dry powder for new opportunities where they arrive in Macau and we do see a few on the horizon and do of course. But in terms to provide us flexibility is Crown Macau has a few negative points. So, I think philosophically and what point you are talking about.

Cameron Hight - JPMorgan

Okay. Great. Thanks. And following on from that, the 2.5 bill role you did in October can you give us a sense of how much of that was direct and, how much of that 2.5 was associated with any uplift associated with the Ama deal?

Lawrence Ho

The Ama commences some interim operations in October. Their contribution to that role in early October was moderate or significant less than 10% and reasonably in line with performance of some of the other mid level junkets we have.

Cameron Hight - JPMorgan

And how much that 2.5 bill was Crown's direct business?

Lawrence Ho

I think Cameron it’s early days and as Greg said it’s progressing positively. I don't think we're going to break it down into details.

Cameron Hight - JPMorgan

Okay. I think you disclosed on the last quarterly call I think it was 20 to 25% of volumes were direct, so I was just wondering if you can give us a sense whether that's increased or decreased?

Lawrence Ho

We are holding in absolute terms we're holding it around about the same levels but obviously our overall volumes are growing so...

Cameron Hight - JPMorgan

Okay. Sure.

Lawrence Ho

We'll break that out.

Cameron Hight - JPMorgan

Okay. Thank very much guys.

Lawrence Ho

Thanks Cameron.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Scott Kessler with Janus Capital Group. Please proceed. Mr. Scott your line is open please proceed.

Lawrence Ho

We go to next caller please.

Operator

And your next question comes from the line of Billy from JPMorgan. Please proceed.

Billy - JPMorgan

Hello. Good evening. I just wanted to ask basically what is the maximum VIP volume, you’re saying Crown can handle under the new configuration and will that be anything close to $80 million or do you have idea or a number that you can share?

Lawrence Ho

I think Billy I think that looking at actual volumes and trying to turn it into some sort of metric that you can apply in square footage, is not something that makes lot of sense to us, given the nature of VIP play.

Obviously, we are back at site, that we will be able to accommodate the significant growth in VIP play at the Crown Macau. As the results of the reconfiguration that we’ve undertaken and quite frankly I think that we feel very confident in day that if it grew beyond that we would also be able accommodate that demand.

So, we from outside, from an operational point of view, we hear this concern time and time again, we think its some of my uptick it doesn’t really play into, what we’re actually doing at an operational level.

Billy - JPMorgan

And the capacity issue is in many ways, it's relative to the top of front money and value of the customer base that achieved model as well. So a lower quantity of customers of a higher quality can have a significant impact from it?

Lawrence Ho

Yeah Billy, it’s Lawrence Ho. I think a lot of people talk about, the hotel accommodations and the room accommodations, and I'd like to remind you for that within a one minute walking distance of Crown Macau, there is a older Hyatt Regency that we intent to make use of and then there is also a new sanctuary.

So, in aggregate there is about 600 hotel rooms within a one minute walking distance and we will obviously kind of top tier Crown International network and top tier fund money players with the Crown.

And second tier or mid tier people would say diligently and for that lower tier casual junket people we would love that new entry. So, from that standpoint on a hotel accommodation standpoint, we have more than enough capacity.

Billy - JPMorgan

Thank you.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Grant Chum with of UBS. Please proceed.

Grant Chum - UBS

Hi, just a follow-up question on the Ama deal, as far as working capital is concerned, can you just clarify is it correct to understand that Ama will actually pay a daily commission, a cycle of daily commission with their junkets, coming like 9.9% of that base volume and then settle the balance at the end of the month. Is that a correct understanding of how that injection of additional working capital works?

Lawrence Ho

Grant five minutes. Sounds like your understanding of that settlement to daily commission is exactly same of ours.

Grant Chum - UBS

Okay, great. And second question just a follow-up on large restaurant and hotel rooms. If the 600 rooms in total, but have you actually made, you actually make an arrangement in terms of free booking blocks of rooms and presumably the hotel rooms they are in just for necessary just kept it for the Crown business or have you actually made specific arrangements with those hotels?

Lawrence Ho

It's great, we'll continue. Grant, we are certainly away that Ama hotel has discussions with Hyatt Regency well with the new century hotel, in the sense looking at junket blocks and free bookings of volume moving forward, so we’re across that and a way of integrating that cost.

Grant Chum - UBS

Okay. Great. Thanks.

Operator

I show no further questions in the queue. I now like to turn the call over for any closing remarks.

Lawrence Ho

Okay. Well, thank you very much. And for your attendance on this call. We look forward speaking to everybody on our fourth quarter call, full year call in approximately three months of time. Thank you.

Operator

Concludes the presentation. And you may all now disconnect. Good day.

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