The writing has been on the wall for gaming and resorts giant Caesars Entertainment's (NASDAQ:CZR) demise for some time now. Following quarter after quarter of decreasing revenue, net losses, and little hope for making meaningful headway in cutting its nearly $23 billion debt load, Caesars has reportedly reached a deal with creditors that features a pre-scheduled bankruptcy for one of its top business segment in just a few months.
In November 2013, Caesars CEO Gary Loveman said "The conditions the company faces today are better and not worse than they have been before," and that "We're much better structured. There is nothing that would trigger a liquidity crisis. Loveman even said a bankruptcy reorganization was "not an option." The company has lost money every year since 2009, and the last year has been especially bad, so it's not surprising that Loveman was wrong.
What is surprising is how the market has reacted to the news, pushing the stock up more than 20% following the report by Bloomberg on November 11 in which sources cited a bankruptcy deal for Caesar's top subsidiary. In an industry with companies that actually show potential for providing long-term value, such as Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) and MGM Resorts International (NYSE:MGM), it is amazing that anyone would still bet on Caesars.
Is this a scam against small creditors?
The bankruptcy in this settlement will reportedly involve the company's major subsidiary, Caesars Entertainment Operating Co., or CEOC. The company has been working with its largest creditors, as far back as March of this year, to restructure much of its debt obligation down to subsidiaries such as CEOC. Following those debt-restructuring moves, the company held talks with creditors over the last eight weeks that culminated to this current plan to allow CEOC to enter Chapter 11 bankruptcy, taking with it the debt obligation the company passed to the subsidiary earlier this year.
Caesars' debt obligation is owed to many creditors, though the bulk is owed to a few major lenders. With support of these few major lenders, Caesars' plan will leave little chance of full recovery for lower-ranking, smaller creditors. While this deal is technically legal, assuming that the shuffling of assets away from CEOC is legal, you can be sure that those who will be hurt most by this shady deal, the small creditors, will fight against it.
One such lower-tranche debt holder who has been particularly active in fighting Caesars in the past is David Tepper, founder and fund manager of Appaloosa Management, who made public his plans to sue Caesars over other restructuring schemes that took place in May and June. If Caesars really is trying to forgo paying money owed to junior debt holders, certainly we'll hear more from Mr. Tepper and other debt holders like him.
Any reason to invest in Caesars now?
Caesars operations have looked bleak for the last few quarters. The share price reflected that by dropping about 50% in 2014, prior to rising on this week's news. This 20% jump in one day is the first time the stock has made any substantial move in the right direction in quite some time.
But is there any reason to continue holding shares of Caesars, or to buy in now following this news? For Foolish investors with a value-oriented, long-term view, probably not. Especially when there are much better bets in this industry.
A losing bet domestically
For one thing, Caesars has proven repeatedly that it is the least attractive option in the U.S. market. While the company has reported quarter after quarter of losses in Las Vegas, other companies are gaining there. Las Vegas' has reported more annual gaming revenue this year than any year since 2007. One company winning on this growth is MGM, which in its most recent quarter reported 3% top-line revenue growth and 6% hotel room revenue growth, year over year.
A losing bet internationally
Another reason to be bearish on Caesars is the company's inability to make any strides internationally. The South Korean government in June 2013 rejected the company's bid to build a resort in the nation, most likely because of Caesars' huge debt load. Shortly afterward, the company announced it would sell its only property in the Chinese gaming mecca of Macau (which did not have a local gaming license anyway).
Caesars' management has lately talked about interest in investing in Japan, has continued to hint at further talks with the South Korean government for new development there, and most recently announced plans to build in the Philippines. But where would the funds to build any of these international properties come from? With the company's track record so far, international expansion is not a reason to bet on Caesars now. A much better bet would be Las Vegas Sands, which in its most recent quarter reported total profit up 7.2% year over year on higher mass-market growth in Macau and Singapore.
What to expect next
It's amazing that Caesars' stock has actually risen on this bankruptcy news. Perhaps investors thinking this is the light at the end of the tunnel for a struggling company, and that they can buy shares cheap. However, as a buy-and-hold investor, there is nothing compelling about Caesars' growth opportunities, or its management.
In the coming weeks and months, expect major pushback from those small creditors who would be most hurt by this deal, which will probably turn into a long and expensive series of court battles. Once everything is settled, even if the CEOC bankruptcy goes through and Caesars is left with less debt, there is little reason to expect the company will then be anything more than the mediocre gaming operation with few growth prospects that it is now.
Bradley Seth McNew owns shares of Las Vegas Sands. The Motley Fool is short Caesars Entertainment. 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.