Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) had been an incredible bet for investors who bought in five years ago, with the stock up nearly 5,000% from its March 2009 lows of $1.77, to its peak in March of this year above $87 a share. However, this summer the stock has lost some ground and since those highs in March, the stock has now dropped some 30%, back down to around $60 a share.
The main reason the stock has taken a nosedive this year is a struggling gaming market in Macau, where Las Vegas Sands has placed its biggest bets in the last few years. Macau has had a tough summer and autumn compared to the extreme gross gaming revenue growth from the Chinese island in the last few years. Some analysts have been placing bets on more Las Vegas-focused companies, like MGM Resorts International (NYSE:MGM), based on the Macau news. Yet, there is still potential for much more growth to come from Macau, and Las Vegas Sands' current stock dip could be a great buying opportunity for investors willing to make the bet.
Macau's losing hand this summer
Macau has been an incredible story in its short history. Western casino companies first got to enter the market between 2002 and 2004, and it didn't take long for the small Chinese island to generate more annual revenue than that of Las Vegas. By 2013, total annual gaming revenue earned in Macau was over seven times as high as in Las Vegas.
However, this summer has been a tough season for Macau. Given regulatory concerns over activity by "junket operators" (middleman services for very wealthy gamers), as well as other issues that put focus on Macau in the summer months, Q2 was not nearly the powerful showing that Q1 was. Gross gaming revenue in Macau during August and September struggled to maintain growth, and Q3 earnings might be another tough situation. And looking further, Q4 likely won't be a whole lot better, as what was expected to be a boom of visitors and gaming revenue during China's 'Golden Week' holiday during the start of October was overshadowed by the huge protests in Hong Kong, the main travel route for most of Macau's visitors.
Las Vegas Sands stock still looks like a long-term winning bet
While Las Vegas Sands' 2009-2013 were nothing short of amazing, 2014 has not been so good for the stock price. Yet, consider that during Q1 2014, Las Vegas Sands produced record high revenue and profit growth, and that Q2 still showed great year-over-year revenue and profit growth as well, easily the highest in the industry, and Q3 and Q4 will likely be the same as Q2.
Sands is not the only company that has dipped over the last few months. In fact most of the gaming industry is struggling to keep stock prices level right now. However, a company like MGM Resorts International has not had as much stock price turbulence related to Macau, as its bet on Macau is much lower than that of Sands, at around 37% of its total revenue compared to 88% for that of Las Vegas Sands. Thus, many analysts and investors are looking at MGM Resorts as a better bet right now.
But consider that while Sands has a much bigger bet on Asia, and thus has more exposure risk to issues like what's happening in Macau, it also has meant incredibly higher profit growth as well. Las Vegas Sands posted a Q2 net income increase of 27% year over year, well ahead of competitors and will likely do so in the coming quarters as well.
The growth catalysts
Going forward, 2015 and beyond could be even more amazing for Las Vegas Sands. Macau is making some big improvements that will help it to continue growing in the next few years, including a new bridge from Hong Kong to Macau expected to be completed at the end of 2015 or in 2016. While Macau does have an international airport, most gamers are coming in on ferries from Hong Kong. The new bridge from Hong Kong to Macau, an amazing engineering feat that requires new ground under parts of the bridge that is to be created with sand, dirt, and concrete poured off the Macau and Hong Kong coastline, will reduce travel time between the two islands to about a 20-minute drive.
This improvement is right in line with Macau's future growth catalyst of more mass market consumers rather than VIP players who might just take a helicopter in from Hong Kong instead. This mass market switch is great for a company like Las Vegas Sands, which is already leading the industry on mass market growth and is dominating Macau's Cotai Strip with its many casino and hotel properties there.
Those Cotai properties are about to get another boost. While each of the major gaming companies in Macau is planning to open a new Cotai property in the next 12-24 months, Las Vegas Sands' The Parisian looks to be one of the most amazing. Next door to the Four Seasons and the Venetian, and across the street from Sands Cotai, The Parisian is Las Vegas Sands' next move to continue dominating the Cotai Strip. With the largest room expansion of any of the coming resorts with over 3,000 rooms, as well as an Eiffel Tower replica at 50% scale, this resort is sure to be an amazing addition to the Strip.
Foolish Last Call: Bet on more growth to come, with a very attractive buy in now
With a growing number of mass market players in Macau, the coming bridge from Hong Kong, and booming construction on the Cotai Strip, Macau looks like it still has much more to give, even if the cards aren't currently in its favor as much as they were before.
Las Vegas Sands stock looked good when it was trading for around $72 following what some analysts were calling a quarterly miss as Q2 revenue and profit growth (still very positive and the highest in the industry) missed their expectations following such an incredible Q1. Las Vegas Sands still looks like a very attractive bet on future growth, and this huge dip in the last seven months could be a great buying opportunity for those waiting to place their bets.
Bradley Seth McNew owns shares of Las Vegas Sands. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.