Macau casino stocks took a hit after it was announced that Macau’s Monetary Authority (MMA) would impose restrictions on UnionPay and other ATM withdrawals from December 10 based on instructions from China. The MMA will impose a 50 percent reduction limit reducing the withdrawal limit to MOP 5,000 which is around US$626. UnionPay Co. cards are used by more than 50 percent of Chinese gamblers who travel to Macau.
The MMA issued a calming statement on Friday, however, noting that the per-transaction limit does not effect the daily ATM withdrawal limit of ¥10,000 ( about US$1,449) or the annual withdrawal limit of ¥100,000. “The measure is not expected to have any impact on day-to-day ATM cash withdrawal through ATM by Macau residents, neither normal overseas cash withdrawal by Mainland bank card holders will be affected,” it added, according to a report on GGRAsia.
Casino stocks were negatively impacted by the announcement in Hong Kong, the United States and Australia. The Galaxy Entertainment Group, Sands China and Wynn Macau shares declined by more than 10 percent on December 9 in the Hong Kong market. Chinese authorities have been monitoring UnionPay transactions for a number of years as they have been used as a means of taking money out of China illegally.
China has been looking at ways to reduce the depreciation pressure on the yuan and impose stronger capital control measures. DS Kim, an analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Hong Kong stated that the new restrictions can be viewed as a message from China to stop possible capital outflow abuse as it looks to arrest the ongoing decline in the country’s foreign exchange reserves.
Macau’s casino industry which suffered 27 months of consecutive gross gaming revenue (GGR) decline due to the anti-corruption crackdown imposed by Beijing had only recently recovered after reporting four consecutive months of GGR increase which started in August 2016. Gaming analysts had predicted that the $30 billion casino industry in Macau would continue its recovery process after recorded its highest year on year growth in November 2016.
Vitaly Umansky an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co believes that the new limits on UnionPay transactions will not impact the majority of mass market gamblers but a small segment will face difficulties.
In a statement, Umansky said “Nearly 50 percent of Chinese customers in Macau use UnionPay ATM withdrawals as one source of cash for gaming. We know that there are individuals who specialize in utilizing hundreds of ATM cards on any given day to withdraw cash and provide liquidity to junket agents and some premium mass players. This is where a slightly greater impact could be felt.”
Crown Resorts shares have already been negatively impacted due to the arrests of its employees in Mainland China in October. The company’s shares fell by 8 percent at the Sydney stock exchange once news of the restrictions on UnionPay transactions broke. Wynn Resorts fell by 12 percent in New York, while the Las Vegas Sands Corp dropped by 13 percent. Melco Crown Entertainment shares fell by 14 percent and MGM Resorts International shares dropped by 4.3 percent.
Jim Murren, the Chief Executive Officer of MGM Resorts remained positive stating that the new measures will reduce some of the casino industry’s revenue in the short term but over the long term it will turn out to be a positive move.
This article has been updated to reflect daily and annual withdrawal limits at Macau ATM’s for all cards issued by Chinese banks.