Melco Crown: Investing in Asia's Las Vegas

Here's a way to roll the dice on the long-term growth of gaming in China.

By TheStockAdvisors Feb 1, 2012 12:54PM
Image: Dice on stock listings (© Kate Kunz/CorbisBy Nicholas Vardy, Bull Market Alert

Our latest featured stock, Melco Crown Entertainment Limited (MPEL), is a play on "Asia's Las Vegas."

Melco is an operator of casino gaming and entertainment resort facilities focused on the fast-growing Macau market -- the only Chinese city in which casinos are legal. Macau became the world's biggest gambling hub in 2006, overtaking the Las Vegas strip in terms of revenues that year.

And although I am skeptical of investing in Chinese state-owned companies, Melco is a privately owned company that is truly thriving by exploiting one of the biggest opportunities in Asia.

While Las Vegas is still struggling to get back on its feet in the aftermath of the Great Recession, 2011 gambling revenue in Macau rose a whopping 42% to a record $33.47 billion -- a figure that is nearly five times greater than 2011 revenues on the Las Vegas strip.

Melco is one of six licensed Macau casino operators. But unlike its other competitors, 100% of Melco Crown's revenues are derived from Macau. Melco also is controlled by Lawrence Ho, son of local tycoon Stanley Ho and member  of one of the region's most powerful families. That makes Melco a local player with a leader who knows the rules of the game in a rough-and-tumble business environment.

In June 2011, Melco acquired a 60% interest in Macau Studio City, which is shaping up to be the premier gaming spot in Macau when it opens in three years, thanks to its location.
The casino will be located right next to the Lotus Bridge immigration station, making it the first and most visible casino on "the strip."

As a result, Melco stock was hit hard this past summer on fears of a dilution of existing shareholders to finance this major development. But with roughly $1 billion of cash in the bank, the company's management has assured investors that Macau Studio City will be funded strictly out of cash and ongoing cash flow. Since then, Melco's stock has been making a gradual recovery.

Recent financial results for Melco confirm its remarkable growth rate. For the nine months ending Sept. 30, 2011, Melco reported net revenue of $2.8 billion. That's a 90% increase in revenues compared to $1.9 billion during the same period in 2010. Net income hit $187.1 million. That equates to $0.35 per ADS compared to a net loss per ADS of $0.05 for the comparable period in 2010. When the company announces its next set of earnings on Feb. 20, I expect earnings to hit $0.50 per ADS for all of 2011.

The recent pullback in the stock makes it a good time to buy. In the interest of full disclosure, I also want you to know that I hold MPEL for my clients at Global Guru Capital.

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Tags: MPEL
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