Are Macau casino stocks a 'screaming buy'?

Macau casino
Philippe Lopez | AFP | Getty Images

Macau casino stocks have lost almost a third of their value this year, sparking speculation over whether a bottom is near.

Shares of Hong Kong-listed casino operators Sands China, Wynn Macau, Melco Crown and Galaxy Entertainment Group have plunged between 28 and 34 percent so far this year reflecting a host of concerns from a drop in VIP visitors to a recent smoking ban.

"If you look at technical charts and dividend yields, the stocks are almost a screaming buy," Michael Ting, analyst at CIMB told CNBC. "But buying into this sector is not a valuation thing, it depends on industry fundamentals which continue to deteriorate."

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Gambling revenues in the southern Chinese territory has slowed sharply in recent months as Beijing's anti-corruption drive and falling housing prices in the mainland sap demand from big-spending customers.

Gross gambling revenue from Macau's 35 casinos fell 11.7 percent in September on year to $3.21 billion, and Ting isn't confident there will be a turnaround in the sector anytime soon, pointing to disappointing Golden Week revenues.

Bearish bet on casinos
Bearish bet on casinos   

In previous years, the week-long national holiday that begins on October 1 has typically seen a surge in gambler spending. This year, however, a decline in high rollers visiting the Chinese gambling enclave has resulted in a sharp fall in gaming revenues, according to analysts.

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The average daily table revenues amounted to HK$1 billion ($128.92 million) in the October 1-6 period, 40 percent lower the corresponding period a year earlier, according to the Asia Pacific Gaming consultancy.

"The year-on-year decline could continue for the remaining months of 2014 due to a variety of factors such as the anti - corruption drive, a higher base, the smoking ban and Xi Jinping's visit in December," he said. Xi is scheduled to visit Macau in December to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Portugal returning its colony to China.

Better entry point in 2015

Louise Cheung analyst at Nomura agrees it's too early for bottom-fishing. "Unless you're someone with at 2-3 year investment horizon, we would hold off," she said.

"There are no positive catalysts through year-end," she added, noting that more brokerages are likely to downgrade their estimates on gambling revenues, which could prove to be another headwind for the stocks.

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A better entry point may be in the first quarter of 2015 before Galaxy Entertainment opens the second phase of its Galaxy Macau casino resort, expected around March, she said.

While Ting of CIMB agrees early 2015 may be a better entry opportunity, he notes that the opening of Galaxy's new property is unlikely to boost the entire sector.

"Individual stocks tend to re-rate when a new property opens. So next year, in terms of stock performance, it may very specific as opposed to industry wide," he said.