The casino industry can be one of the most rewarding business segments for investors seeking high returns on capital and long-term profits. Investment gurus Andreas Halvorsen (Trades, Portfolio) and Ken Fisher (Trades, Portfolio) recently bought fair amounts of Las Vegas Sand Corp (LVS) shares, probably due to the company’s strong performance in the past years. Sand Corp is the world’s largest operator of integrated resorts, with a blend of casino, hotel, entertainment, food, beverage, retail and convention centre operations. Some of the most famous company-owned venues include Sands Macao, Venetian Macao, Sands Cotai Central and Four Seasons Hotel Macao in China, as well as the Marina Bay Sands resort in Singapore and the Palazzo Las Vegas in the U.S.
The Asian Treasure Hunt
One of Sand Corp’s key growth catalysts is and continues to be its presence in the Asian market, which generates 85% of the company’s total revenue. China’s Macao Cotai Strip has been the firm’s focus for several years now, and given it’s the only place in China where gambling is legal, holding a market position is crucial. Today, Sands is one of six companies licensed casino operators, and owns 50% of all gambling tables on the Strip. Furthermore, the mass market growth is significant for the company’s profitability, as Sands China receives 75% of its cash flow from this segment. Projections for the future years are bright, as 2013 marked a 30% growth of the mass market, compared to the VIP market, which only registered 5% to 10% growth. Also, the company’s 25% market share of the Macao Strip will grow even more after 2015, when the Parisian resort opens its doors.
Sand Corp’s successful resort operations have not only assigned it a narrow moat rating, but also positively positions the firm to receive casino licenses in countries like Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, where gambling will be legalized in the near future. In fact, the company benefits from its market share in the Singapore duopoly, through the Marina Bay Sands resort venue. With 34% gaming taxes, compared to Macao’s 39%, the Singapore operation is the company’s fastest growing business segment, and will continue to drive excessive EBITDA margins of 53.6% until 2018, when the casino license expires. Additionally, the firm’s market share in Asia sets it apart from competitors like MGM Resorts International (MGM) or Monarch Casino & Resort Inc. (MCRI)
Risks and Valuation
Although the Chinese government will maintain its gambling restrictions in the mainland over the next decade, Sand Corp’s market share and leverage in fixed costs will continue to riel in strong revenue growth from this region. Fiscal 2013 marked a 24.80% revenue increase ($13.8 billion) and operating margins continue to expand at the same pace. Despite the inherent risk of an economic slowdown in Asia or a recession in the U.S., which could put a halt to leisure spending, the company is well prepared to balance out any short-term losses. The casino operator’s EBITDA growth of 65.30%, for example, is an impressive result when compared to the industry’s average of 4.90%.
Looking forward, earnings per share are expected to continue their fast-paced upward trend, having jumped from $1.56 in 2011 to $2.79 at the end of fiscal 2013. The 21.6% return on equity, as well as 1.80% dividend yield should also be attractive to shareholders and future investors. Although Las Vegas Sand Corp is currently trading at a 24% price premium relative to the industry average of 22.60x trailing earnings, I feel very bullish about this firm’s long term profitability, given its strong market position in Asia.
Disclosure: Vanina Egea holds no position in any stocks mentioned.