"Let your winners ride."
stock . Recently announced monthlyrevenue figures from the world's newest gambling mecca implies a robust year ahead and furtherupside for Melco Crown Entertainment (Nasdaq: MPEL) .
I laid out theinvestment case for this stock in September 2010 , noting that Melco was the newest initiative from billionaire Stanley Ho, the legendary Hong Kong mogul that owns some of the world's top casinos.
Thanks to newfound momentum at the gaming tables of Macau, along with a series of upcoming catalysts, this stock now appears headed into the $20s, perhaps yielding 50% or more in upside from here.
Over the course of 2012, the major players in Macau built out their hotel and casino complexes and now appear to be benefiting fromcritical mass . Las Vegas Sands' ( LVS ) Sands Cotai Central and Venetian Macau casinos, along with Melco's City of Dreams (COD) are all on the same block in the Cotai district and now have a combined 8,000 hotel rooms. Gamblers have started to migrate to that area, thanks to its convenience to transit and hundreds of shops.
The strong traffic at Melco's COD complex likely fueled an 8% spike inrevenues for the company in the fourth quarter, according to Goldman Sachs (Consensus forecasts had been anticipating flat growth in the fourth quarter). If Goldman Sachs' analysts are correct, then that would be the strongest year-over-year quarterly gain in 2012. Macau gambling revenues slowed earlier in the year on the heels of a slowing Chineseeconomy .
Indeed, the entire casino sector finished 2012 on a highnote , with December revenues spiking nearly 20% higher than the year-ago monthly take, which should set the stage for solid 5% to 10% revenue growth in 2013 as well, according to analysts (No new casinos are slated to open, so growthwill have to be on an organic basis).
Yet it's the middle of the decade that has analysts focusing on the next bigcatalyst for Melco Crown. The company has been sharply boosting spending in recentquarters in preparation of a launch for a new casino -- Macau Studio City -- in 2014, and then the opening of a new casino in the Philippines in 2015, which will instantly become the largest in that country.
With plans to spend more than $2 billion to complete those two construction projects, investors will need patience. Melco Crown likely generated more than $2 billion infree cash flow in 2012, but look for a similarly-sized free cash flow loss in 2013. Free cash flow should be modestly negative in 2014, before spiking back to 2012 levels in 2015.
With such a muddled near-termcash flow picture in place, this is a tricky stock to value. Goldman Sachs has refrained from valuing the big 2014 and 2015 casino launches, and instead focused on existing opened casinos and values this stock at $21.50 a share.
Analysts at Citigroup have a similarprice target and methodology, but think that Macau Studio City will add an additional $5 in value to this stock when it opens in 2014, and the casino in the Philippines will add another $2 in value. In effect, this stock may approach $30 a share once thisbusiness model comes to fruition.
Risks to Consider: As we saw in 2012, any concerns about economic growth in China will depress valuations for Macau casinostocks as concerns rise that gambling revenues will slump.
Action to Take --> The Chinese middle class continues to expand at a solid pace, and that trend is expected to remain in place for the rest of the decade. With a strong predilection for gambling, Chinese consumers should help fuel solid multi-year gains for Melco Crown.
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