* Sands seen struggling to raise $2 bln in loans by yr-end
* May further affect HK IPO valuations - analysts, brokers
* Risks to gambling sector still challenging - banker (For more Reuters DEALTALKs, click [DEALTALK/])
HONG KONG, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Las Vegas Sands Corp LVS.N may struggle to secure up to $2 billion in financing for mothballed projects and dent already-lowered valuations for the planned Hong Kong initial public offering of its Macau operations, bankers and analysts said.
The world’s most valuable casino operator needs the money to complete its two suspended projects in Macau, which have become major embarrassments and eyesores as the company prepares to raise up to $2.5 billion in a public offering. [ID:nHKG210815].
Sands Chief Executive Sheldon Adelson told Reuters in an interview last week that the company is in the process of securing financing to complete the two projects, which include mid-tier hotel brands, by 2011.
A source familiar with the situation said on Friday the sites are key to Sands’ goal of creating the critical mass needed to make Macau a major destination market.
The source said Sands would prefer to secure the project financing ahead of the IPO but is not depending on it.
"This is certainly a more challenging IPO and there's a lot of risks to it," said Susquehanna analyst Robert LaFleur, comparing the Sands IPO with a similar one for the less debt-laden Wynn Macau Ltd 1128.HK earlier this month. "They're already partially pregnant with their Macau projects."
Highly leveraged Sands has come close to violating loan covenants and suspended work on several projects as it navigates the credit crisis that began last year. Chairman and founder Sheldon Adelson has injected $1 billion of his own money into the casino operator.
Sands’ high debt load means its stock needs to be valued more cheaply than Wynn Macau to attract investors.
“IPOs are still in demand in a buoyant market but one has to offer its shares at an even more attractive price to lure investment interest if its fundamentals are not so sound,” said Ben Kwong, chief operating officer of KGI Asia.
The buzz among bankers is that the loan could fail to materialize before year-end and mark another setback for the company as it prepares to pass around the IPO hat.
Sands is tapping the loan market almost one year after canceling a $5.25 billion financing during the global crisis.
Its timing for the new loans is hardly ideal, however, as banks will be closing their books ahead of year-end and are reluctant to lend out in such huge sums, bankers said.
“The banks are taking a wait-and-see approach,” said a senior banker from a Chinese bank. “Many are waiting to see which banks will indicate that they will take a substantial ticket.”
Sands wants the money as the company, with long-term debt of about $10.6 billion, tries to wow the world with its gaming assets in Asia -- a huge growth market where it has several projects in Macau and one in Singapore. [ID:nN19349409]
The company has shored up its balance sheet through strict cost cuts, $600 million of exchangeable bonds and amendments to its $3.3 billion Macau credit facility.
However, nervousness about Macau’s highly regulated gambling market and fickleness from China -- which supplies two-thirds of the enclave’s gambling visitors --- are keeping potential lenders on the sidelines, bankers say. [ID:nN12141532]
That fickleness has been apparent in recent months, with China loosening visa restrictions for its citizens to travel to Macau, only to retighten them this month.
“Worrying signals on people crossing the border are not good for loan syndications,” said one banker. “From a bank point of view, they undermine some basics.”
Citigroup C.N, Goldman Sachs Group Inc GS.N, Macau's Banco Nacional Ultramarino and Singapore's DBS Group Holdings Ltd DBSM.SI would be the likely financiers of the loan for Sands, whose main Macau property is the Venetian, sources said.[ID:nHKG210815]
Goldman had approached 25-30 banks, but only 15 attended the bank meeting in Macau last week, sources told Basis Point.
“Venetian Macau is just too big for its relationship banks to miss,” said a loans banker, who is looking at the deal. “After all, it’s the biggest project in Macau for the next few years to come, and you don’t want to ruin the relationship with them.” (Additional reporting by Donny Kwok, Foster Wong and Deena Beasley, Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Doug Young and Anshuman Daga)
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