Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sands eyes US$12 billion from sale of Macau assets

CEO raises Marina Bay Sands forecast, investment to be recouped in 5 years

Las Vegas Sands Corp chairman Sheldon Adelson said that the planned sale of the casino operator's Macau malls and apartments may raise as much as US$12 billion and recoup their construction costs.

'It will be like US$12 billion if we add up all the apartments and all the retail in Macau,' including those in buildings still under construction, Mr Adelson, the founder and chief executive officer of Las Vegas Sands, said in an interview in Singapore on Tuesday. The company may start selling the Macau assets within 21/2 years, he said.

Sands, which Adelson describes as 'an Asian company with a presence in Las Vegas and the US', gets 73 per cent of its revenue from Macau, the world's largest gambling market. He was in Singapore on Tuesday to open the first phase of Marina Bay Sands, and raised his earnings forecast for the resort, saying that the US$5.5 billion invested in it will be recouped in five years.

Sands' casino resort on Tuesday opened 963 of its 2,560 hotel rooms, the casino, the meeting and convention facilities, parts of its shopping mall and some restaurants. A grand opening party will be held on June 23 when the second phase is unveiled, including a sky park, additional shops and more restaurants.

Asia will contribute 85 per cent of revenue once the Singapore casino 'ramps up', said Mr Adelson. Last year's sales totalled US$4.56 billion, with 27 per cent coming from Las Vegas, where the company is based.

Macau assets that Sands may sell include the Four Seasons apartments and shopping areas in the Venetian Macau casino resort and in the Four Seasons hotel, Mr Adelson said. The plan also includes selling condominiums at the St Regis, where construction is resuming.

'That is our fundamental business model - we get our money back from the sale of non-core business assets,' he said.

Still, Jonathan Galaviz, an independent strategist who follows travel and leisure in Asia, said that apartments and malls in Macau may be a tough sell to investors, given that the city isn't a proven place for housing investment, and that a huge asset bubble may be developing in Asian real estate.

'Second-home buyers in Asia tend to have an affinity for beach and costal destinations, so Macau's proposition will need to be unique in order to compete,' Mr Galaviz said in an e-mail. As for malls, 'the average length of stay for Macau's average tourist - around one night - doesn't yet lend itself to a strong and dynamic retail opportunity'.

Sands fell US$1.51, or 5.8 per cent, to close at US$24.69 on the New York Stock Exchange composite trading on Tuesday. The stock has gained 65 per cent this year.

Mr Adelson, who is Sands' controlling shareholder, said in December that selling the retail areas at the Four Seasons and the Venetian would raise enough money to pay Sands' debt. The company has US$12.2 billion of bonds and loans due from next year to 2015, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The billionaire, who previously said that the Singapore project would add more than US$1 billion in annual earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, didn't provide a new figure apart from saying that he was raising his forecast. The return period compares with four years for the Macau project, which cost about half as much to build, Mr Adelson said.

The Marina Bay Sands in Singapore will be a 'grand slam home run', Mr Adelson said. 'Asian people just love to gamble.'

Singapore aims to lure 17 million visitors and triple annual tourism revenue to S$30 billion (US$22 billion) by 2015, helped by two casino resorts, Marina Bay Sands and Genting Bhd's Resorts World Sentosa.

The Marina Bay Sands casino, which makes up about 3 per cent of the 15,000 sq m resort, has about 600 table games and more than 1,500 slot machines.

Asia has room for five to 10 cities like Las Vegas, Mr Adelson said. The most likely countries to approve casinos in the region are Japan and Taiwan, he said. -- Bloomberg

Source: Business Times, 29 Apr 2010

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