The sale of stake by Austrian billionaire James Packer in a Macau gaming company has triggered speculations on the businessman’s next move.
Packer’s gaming company Crown Resorts, sold $1.08 billion worth of shares in its Macau venture and James Packer resigned as co-chairman to become deputy chairman of the Hong Kong-based Melco Crown, according to a statement on Wednesday,
With the sale Crown reduced exposure in the gaming company at Macau, which is the world’s largest gaming hub, where a downturn has hit the business, reports Business Times. The deal lowered Crown Resorts’s stake in Melco Crown to 27 percent from 34 percent.
By deciding to step down as co-chair of Melco Crown, and putting Lawrence as the de facto largest shareholder, James Packer is playing a new game. Melco bought back 155 million ordinary shares from Crown’s Crown Asia Investments at US$5.16 per share.
“Crown remains a major shareholder in the company and we look forward to continuing our relationship,” Lawrence Ho, Macau casino operator’s chief executive officer said in a statement.
In business circles, speculation is rife in what the billionaire will do next.
“I’d say there’s definitely something lurking in the background,” said Sam Fimis, an adviser at Patersons Securities in Melbourne. He said the cash from the stock sale gives James Packer many options. Meanwhile, Crown said the stock sale will make it focus on a potential return to shareholders while cutting net debt.
“Crown will assess its capacity to make a distribution to shareholders, and at the same time maintain a strong balance sheet and credit profile to fund existing Australian development projects, including Crown Sydney,” it said.
The Wall Street Journal in a report noted that Packer may appear selling Melco Crown’s shares below their 2014 peak. But there is an immense sense of it.
James Packer’s Crown Resorts is building new hotels in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Las Vegas. According to the analysts at Morgan Stanley, Packer needs nearly $3 billion in the next five years to fund these projects. By taking out cash from the stake sale in Macau, Packer is trying to leverage at a level that could maintain its investment-grade credit rating.
Crown Resorts said it is committed to Melco Crown, but, exiting from Melco seems to be for the better. Melco Crown’s shares have already crashed more than 60 percent since early 2014, though the value of its non-Macau assets has risen 18 percent.