For now the Macau government has no plan to restrict – in the light of the mainland China viral pneumonia outbreak – the flow of incoming visitors expected to the city. The upcoming Chinese New Year period – which starts on Friday for mainland China residents – is traditionally a peak time for Macau’s inbound visitor traffic.
A number of investment analysts covering the Macau casino sector nonetheless noted that the China outbreak had the potential to disrupt the city’s casino industry, depending on developments.
Macau’s Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Ao Ieong U, said in a Tuesday press briefing that, with effect from Wednesday (January 22), the local authorities would be enforcing body-temperature checks on all passengers arriving in Macau via flights from mainland China – not only from Wuhan city, where the outbreak was first reported. But at this stage there was no plan to impose restrictions on incoming visitors or control the visitor flow at the various border checkpoints.
Macau’s casino regulator, the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau – a body also known as DICJ – said in a Tuesday statement that body-temperature screening was in place across the city’s casino properties, at “405” entries and exits for patrons; and “47” entry and exit points for resort staff.
The gaming bureau also noted that hand held temperature-check devices were being used across 39 casinos in Macau. The local authorities had warned the casinos in early January to start screening patrons for signs of sickness. On Tuesday the regulator reiterated its guidance for the city’s six casino concessionaires and sub-concessionaires to pay close attention to the health of their staff and guests, and to strengthen what it termed “sanitisation” work at their properties.
Border Gate screening
The World Health Organization (WHO) – a United Nations Agency – said on Monday that a key emergency committee would meet this week to discuss the coronavirus outbreak. As of Tuesday illness cases linked to the virus had also been reported in three countries neighbouring China: South Korea, Thailand and Japan.
At Tuesday’s briefing by Macau’s Health Bureau, the body’s director, Lei Chin Ion, said that the local government would also conduct body-temperature checks on those arriving at the Border Gate checkpoint with neighbouring Zhuhai in Guangdong province. China Daily, a state media outlet, reported on Tuesday that 14 cases of the newly-identified coronavirus – said to have symptoms similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) which killed hundreds around the world two decades ago – had been confirmed in Guangdong, including three in Zhuhai.
Six deaths in Wuhan had been linked to the newly-identified coronavirus as of Tuesday, the city’s mayor told state television. A total of 258 cases had been confirmed in that city by the end of Monday, Zhou Xianwang said in an interview.
A Monday night statement released by the Macau government had noted that since January 1, local medical facilities in the gambling hub had reported an aggregate of 13 people – who had been in Wuhan within the previous 14 days – presenting themselves for treatment in Macau with respiratory problems and fever. All 13 people were eventually declared not to have the Wuhan sickness.
But Macau’s Health Bureau noted on Monday it did not rule out the possibility a case of the new illness might be imported to the city from outside.
Last week the city’s tourism bureau said Macau could see the first year-on-year decline in its visitor arrival tally in “years” during 2020; but for reasons unconnected with the current public health alert.
In terms of consumer response to the public health alert as it affected Macau, JP Morgan Securities (Asia Pacific) Ltd said in a Monday note there were no signs of “significant cancellations” by holidaymakers bound for the city during Chinese New Year.
“We’ll monitor the situation closely, but so far our checks reveal no discernable impact from this news… Chinese New Year hotel booking still remains very robust,” wrote JP Morgan analysts DS Kim, Derek Choi and Jeremy An.
China’s State Council has designated the upcoming holiday period as running from Friday, January 24 – the eve of Chinese New Year – until Thursday, January 30 inclusive.
Risk to Macau GGR recovery
JP Morgan was still maintaining its January forecast for Macau’s gross gaming revenue (GGR) at “-2 percent year-on-year” – assuming a further slowdown ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday period – to be followed by a “-4 to -6 percent” decline in February GGR.
“As it stands, we believe the risk to our forecast is on the upside – that is, assuming the China’s pneumonia outbreak does not escalate to extreme levels,” wrote the JP Morgan team.
Brokerage Sanford C. Bernstein Ltd said in a Tuesday memo that, “at this stage, we believe it is too early to try to forecast any impact on Macau GGR.”
It added: “The contagion is in early stages and may not impact Macau visitation in any material way. Panic at this stage is premature in our view.”
The Macau gaming stocks listed on the Hong Kong bourse were hit “with 5 percent to 6 percent” declines on Monday, which might have been a reaction to the concerns over the spread in China of the viral pneumonia outbreak, highlighted Sanford Bernstein in a separate note, issued on Monday. On the same day, a number of other Hong Kong-listed travel trade-related firms had also seen stock-price declines, the institution noted.
“Should the outbreak get worse, it would likely negatively impact travel and reduce visitation to Macau, thereby impacting the gaming industry’s recovery,” said the brokerage, referring to last year’s slowdown in casino GGR and the improvement anticipated by the market for this year.
“Any major spread [in the pneumonia virus] that begins to disrupt travel would be negative for Macau stocks,” Sanford Bernstein analysts Vitaly Umansky, Eunice Lee and Kelsey Zhu wrote in their Monday memo.
The institution currently estimates Macau’s January GGR could trend ” -1 percent to +2 percent” year-on-year. For the first two months of this year combined, the brokerage estimated the GGR performance would be in the range of “-1 percent to +2 percent” year-on-year. This was on the basis that some reported administrative controls by China authorities on exit visas to Macau for mainland residents – said to have started in November ahead of a December visit to Macau by China’s President Xi Jinping – appeared “to have subsided”.
(Updated 8.55am, Jan 22)
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"There is still no clarity about when border easing for Macau will occur. In the end these changes are needed to see a rebound for Macau business"
Vitaly Umansky, Louis Li and Shirley Yang
Analysts at brokerage Sanford C. Bernstein