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Howard Stutz

Strip gaming stocks soar in September

1 October 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Strip gaming stocks in September continued a climb out of oblivion that began in August.

Last month, some casino operators and slot machine manufacturers saw their average daily share prices reach levels investors had not seen in more than a year.

Share prices for MGM Mirage and Las Vegas Sands Corp. were up 33 percent or more during the month. Wynn Resorts Ltd. had a 16 percent climb in its average daily share price.

The averages were compiled by Las Vegas-based financial adviser Applied Analysis, which charts seven casino operators and three slot machine makers for its monthly gaming index.

Earlier this year, several gaming companies saw their stock prices fall to historic lows.

"Recent stock price improvements appear linked to the expectation that marginal increases in top-line revenue will lead to significant improvements in profitability due to extensive cost-cutting measures for both operators and manufacturers," Applied Analysis principal Brian Gordon wrote in a report to clients. "Anecdotal reports seem consistent with the position that the economic cycle bottomed and that consumers are slowly coming out of their year-long slumber."

The Applied Analysis Gaming Index posted its third consecutive monthly increase, climbing 16.5 points to 294.72.

Gordon said plans by Wynn and Las Vegas Sands for initial public offerings on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange sparked interest in the gaming sector.

The average daily stock prices of regional casino operators Penn National Gaming, Ameristar Casinos and Pinnacle Entertainment all tumbled during the month.

Gordon suspected that those companies had gains in their stock prices earlier in the year in advance of the upward movement by Strip casino operators.

"There seems to be more caution on the part of investors toward the regional markets," Gordon said.

Janney Montgomery Scott gaming analyst Brian McGill is not sold on the upward climb by MGM Mirage, which is opening the $8.5 billion CityCenter development in December. Even at an average price per share of $11.50 in September, more than 63 percent below what the company was trading for a year ago, McGill thinks MGM Mirage is overpriced.

"We believe it has priced in good news that may not occur until 2011 or beyond," McGill said in a recent investors note. The stock is expensive given the underlying fundamentals for Las Vegas. The Street does not fully appreciate the impact (CityCenter) will have on the existing properties on the Strip."

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