Las Vegas Sands Profit Hit by Charges

Casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS) said Tuesday that first-quarter earnings declined from last year due to a number of charges, but operating profit beat Wall Street expectations.

Net income for the owner of The Venetian hotel-casino in Las Vegas fell to $7.1 million, or 2 cents per share, for the three months ended March 31 from $49.9 million, or 15 cents per share, last year.

Excluding a loss on disposal of assets, development expenses, a loss on early retirement of debt, and an unusually large charitable contribution to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (search), the company earned $103.1 million, or 29 cents per share, in the latest quarter.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were looking for the company to post earnings of 25 cents per share before one-time items.

Net revenue after promotional allowances surged to $403.8 million from $239.2 million in the first quarter of 2004, reflecting revenue from the Sands Macao casino, which opened in the Chinese territory in May 2004. Total revenue grew to $423.8 million from $252.9 million last year.

The company said the continuing strength in operating earnings was driven by revenue from the Sands Macau casino, strong gambling volumes and room-rate gains at the Venetian Casino Resort, and lower interest costs.

"We delivered solid first quarter operating results both in Las Vegas and Macau," said William P. Weidner, president and chief operating officer. He said bookings into the second quarter look strong.

Cash flow in the first quarter of 2005 was a record $166.2 million, an increase of 49.2 percent compared to $111.4 million in the year-ago quarter. Cash flow is a measure of a casino's profitability.

The Venetian's average daily room rate was $243 during the first quarter, compared to $235 a year ago.

But Steven Kent, a gambling analyst with Goldman Sachs, said in an investor's note Tuesday that Macau's cash flow of $68 million was about 15 percent lower than he had expected.

"Overall, the quarter was mixed, with weaker-than-expected performance in Macau offsetting very solid Las Vegas results," he wrote. "The Venetian in Las Vegas displayed the strength we have been seeing across Las Vegas."

Las Vegas Sands shares fell $2.20, or 5.7 percent, to close at $36.10 in Tuesday trading on the New York Stock Exchange — below the stock's previous 52-week low of $36.40.

The company is hoping to capitalize on the strong Las Vegas trends with the $1.6 billion Palazzo, a 3,000-room megaresort under construction next to the Venetian.

It's also building the $1.8 billion Macau Venetian Casino Resort in the Chinese territory.

Both developments are scheduled to open in 2007.

Along with other major Las Vegas casino operators such as MGM Mirage (MGM), Wynn Resorts (WYNN) and Harrah's Entertainment (HET), Las Vegas Sands is bidding to build one of two hotel-casinos in Singapore.