Macau casino stocks slide on visa concerns
HONG KONG |
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Macau gambling stocks listed in Hong Kong slumped on Tuesday after a Chinese media report flagged a potential tightening of visas for Chinese nationals travelling to the world's largest gambling destination.
The Chinese-language Macau Daily News warned that the number of visas under China's Individual Visitation Scheme could be reduced, along with a cut in the overseas spending limit on China Union Pay credit cards used by many Chinese to withdraw cash in Macau.
Industry experts, however, including a major junket operator in Macau, said they were not aware of any visa restrictions and said there had been no official announcement. The unsourced report did not give a reason for the potential tightening.
Shares of Sands China (1928.HK) slid 5.4 percent to a more than 5-month low, while Wynn Macau (1128.HK) fell 4.1 percent, underperforming a mostly flat benchmark Hang Seng Index .HSI.
Visa restrictions are a hotly watched issue in Macau, a former Portuguese enclave where glitzy casinos generate six times more revenue than Las Vegas.
About 25 million visitors from Greater China flocked to the specially administered region in 2011 - the only place in China where nationals can legally gamble at casinos - making up about 90 percent of total visitors.
The latest visa restriction by China in 2008, due to concerns that the gambling sector was overheating, led to a plunge in gaming revenues.
Analysts said there was more scrutiny on mainland Chinese travelling overseas due to concerns of capital flight after the public scandal of deposed Chinese politician Bo Xilai, which was potentially resulting in lengthier approval times rather than restrictions on visas.
"There has been no restriction of visas," said Gabriel Chan, analyst at Credit Suisse in Hong Kong
Chan said new measures recently put in place should actually should encourage the flow of visitors by making it easier for residents to apply for a visa and lengthening the opening hours of the border gate that connects Macau to the mainland.
Macau's gambling growth has also been slowing rather than overheating, hitting a near 3-year low in May and prompting some investors to sell their holdings.
U.S. asset manager Waddell & Reed Financial Inc. sold down stakes of $250 million in Sands China and Wynn Macau in earlier in June, according to Thomson Reuters IFR.
George Soros' Hong Kong-based unit SFM HK Management Ltd liquidated $1 billion of funds that were heavily weighted in Macau gambling stocks, the Hong Kong Economic Times reported on Tuesday, after the departure of Robert Tsai, the fund's main manager, and his team.
Junket operators, companies that help bring in VIP clients from the mainland by loaning them credit, said that in recent weeks many high net worth individuals from China have been more cautious on their gambling spend due to poor economic sentiment.
"It is a confidence issue," said one junket operator who works at one of the top 10 junket companies in Macau.
Visitation levels fell 6.5 percent in May, according to official figures, but casino executives said June levels have picked up considerably.
($1 = 7.7608 Hong Kong dollars)
(Additional reporting by Twinnie Siu; Editing by Richard Pullin)
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