Headline miss but ASCA actually beat our EBITDA slightly. Below the line was worse. Maybe we were too conservative but East Chicago wasn't the disaster we thought.



Despite the weather, George Bush, low hold, and other excuses, ASCA actually beat our EBITDA estimate slightly.  They missed the Street, of course.  Below the EBITDA line items were worse so EPS looked bad.  While the excuse game gets a little much sometimes, we actually feel a little better about the properties going forward, particularly East Chicago.  However, EPS will likely go down significantly going forward, due to a higher tax rate, corporate expense, and interest expense.   





"In comparison to the extremely strong first quarter of 2009, when we established several all-time financial performance records, the initial quarter of 2010 proved to be more challenging due to a variety of negative factors that impacted our operating results....We continue to see soft consumer discretionary spending in most of our markets, as most significantly evidenced by market contraction on a year-over-year basis in our Vicksburg, Kansas City, Council Bluffs and Jackpot markets"

- Gordon Kanofsky, Ameristar's Chief Executive Officer



  • "Our luxury hotel and the favorable regulatory changes in Colorado spurred year-over-year gross gaming revenue growth of $12.0 million in the Black Hawk market during the first quarter, and we were able to capture more than 100% of that"
  • "Ameristar East Chicago's admission levels and operating results continued to be adversely affected by a permanent bridge closure in the fourth quarter of 2009 that has made access inconvenient for many of the property's guests. The bridge closure contributed significantly to the 47.2% decrease in Adjusted EBITDA as compared to the prior-year first quarter."
  • "The first quarter of 2010 was adversely impacted by low table games hold at several of our properties, including Ameristar East Chicago where a high-limit player affected Adjusted EBITDA by approximately $1.6 million."
  • "Our Midwest properties were negatively impacted by the increased frequency of inclement weather... Additionally, the poor weather conditions were often present during weekends and holidays."
  • "Employee benefits expense increased year over year by $1.9 million."
  • Outlook: "Although we were presented with several challenges during the first quarter, we are fortunate in that some of them are expected to be subject to the law of averages, such as the inclement weather, low table games hold percentages and spikes in health benefits claims"
  • 2Q2010 Guidance:
    • D&A: $27 to $28MM
    • Interest expense, net of capitalized interest: $34 and $35MM (includes non-cash interest expense ~$2.8MM)
    • Tax rate: 42.5% to 43.5%.
    • Capital spending: $15 to $20MM
    • Capitalized interest: $0.2 to $0.3mm
    • Non-cash stock-based compensation expense: $3.0 to $3.5MM


  • Comparison between 1Q09 and 1Q2010 was difficult as everything went right for them last year
  • Implemented almost all of their cost controls by 1Q09, and therefore they are particularly happy with their margin performance given the top line results.
  • Used 42% of Adjusted EBITDA to pay down debt
  • Still playing around with the marketing & promotions at East Chicago to get maximum efficiencies. 
  • The bridge is permanently shut down, but the state will allow the use of the highway to improve access to the property late this year. By 2012 they will complete the second phase of a project to really help the egress to the property
  • Continue to see the consumer being very frugal with their money
  • Few unexpected items in the Q included:
    • increase in benefits to healthcare charges and some particular non-recurring timing issues, weather- especially on peak times like holidays and weekends and low hold
  • Hotel occupancy at Blackhawk has been exceeding 90% since opening. Attracting a lot of visitors from the Denver market. Their gross gaming revenues increased by $14.9MM and market share grew to 26.9%
  • Game plan is to retire debt with their FCF.  Retired an additional $12MM of debt in April
  • High cash balance is related to certain interest payments they need to pay in 2Q2010
  • Expect to retire $70-80MM of net debt for the year and are slightly ahead of that plan.
  • Once the swaps expire on 7/19/2010, they will see a substantial reduction in interest expense in the 2H of the year by roughly $12MM


  • Weather likely impacted them by several million
  • Overall impact of low hold was a couple million
  • Also getting impacted by road construction / access issues in St. Louis which will be completed over the next few months
  • Didn't seem to be particularly interested in acquiring any Stations assets
  • Any signs from the consumer that things are improving?
    • No
  • Are East Chicago costs normalized this quarter?
    • Yes but they are still tweaking the promotional campaigns
  • Benefit charges had to do with changing providers and a large claim settlement that was outstanding. There has also been some accelerating trends on healthcare costs. However, those costs will be more balanced going forward
  • There were also increases in SG&A as well. Corporate run rate excluding stock comp should still be $47MM for the year
  • Capital spending for 2Q 2010: $15-20MM
  • Still have over $4MM of construction payables outstanding pending the outcome of their lawsuit with Walton in St. Charles
  • The stock comp guidance doesn't include the deferred comp plan.
  • The point of their hotels is largely for promotional purposes
  • Gas prices did have a negative impact on them last time they were over $3.50/ gallon
  • Found that the consumer was very happy to spend ASCA's money in 2008 when things were weak but that wasn't efficient for them - as soon as their promotions dried up, so did spending.

Calendar Catalysts in Europe

Greek Strike:


Today begins a 48-hour strike in Greece to protest against the government’s new austerity measures in exchange for a €110 Billion financial aid package. The measures include:

  • Halting increases in public sector salaries and pensions for at least three years, and eliminating bonus pay
  • Increasing Value Added Tax from 21% to 23%
  • Raising tax on fuel, alcohol, and tobacco by 10%
  • Liberalizing labor laws to make it easier for companies to fire workers
  • Taxing illegal construction
  • Increasing retirement age to 67 from 65 (being proposed)

Around half a million public sector workers in the union ADEDY are expected to take to the street today, with pensioners holding separate demonstrations. Tomorrow, the private sector, including teachers, is set to strike. Expectations are for the country of 11 million to nearly shut down: Government ministries and shops are expected to be closed, airports have cancelled flights and transportation should be severely delayed; hospitals may be understaffed.



UK Election:


Thursday is the General Election in the UK. Candidates include: Gordon Brown (Labour), David Cameron (Conservatives), and Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats). Polls suggest a high likelihood of a hung parliament, ie a lack of a majority government, meaning the inability of a party to obtain the 326 seats needed (of the 650 seats in the House of Commons) to gain an overall majority. While there is historical precedence for a hung parliament (most recently in 1974), a lack of majority, especially before we get the exact number of seats that each party attains, could yield at least three possible outcomes:

  1. Gordon Brown’s government may continue to rule despite a minority in Parliament, perhaps with a hand-shake agreement with another party for support like the Liberal Democrats.
  2. Brown may offer his resignation to the Queen and suggest a new government, likely to David Cameron.
  3. The Queen could overthrow Brown’s minority government in her "Queen’s Speech” on May 25th in favor of another party


German Vote on Bailout and State Election:


Friday marks the vote in Parliament on Greece’s bailout; Germans are on hook for nearly $30 Billion and sentiment suggests an unwillingness to fund the mismanagement of the Greek economy.


On Sunday, Germany’s largest state by population and the country’s industrial heartland, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), holds a state election.  For Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU) along with her coalition partners the Free Democrats (FDP) a win is needed to retain its majority in the Bundesrat (upper house of parliament).  With government spending a hot topic in the election, Merkel must show that she’s not writing a blank check to the Greeks (even if she will) to gain the popular vote on this very unpopular bailout.  



Spain’s Debt Due:


In June, Spain has roughly €16 Billion in debt redemptions due of the some €225 Billion due this year. Like Greece, we could see the government unable to meet its obligations at maturity.  For more on our analysis on Spain see Daryl Jones’ note out today titled "Bearish Enough On Spain?"



Matthew Hedrick

Spanish Spoo: SP500 Risk Management Levels, Refreshed

You just know I am smiling today. My Hedgeyes like winning.


In the face of plenty a perpetual bull pleading their valuation case, the Spanish Spoo crew is crying the SPY’s a river out there today. Global Risk Management doesn’t occur in a vacuum. From a crash in sovereign debtor nations to a TREND line breakout in both volume and volatility, the risks are clear and present in the rear-view.


Critically, the SP500 has broken its immediate term TRADE line again today (1193). We have an immediate term lifeline of support down at 1173, and the intermediate term TREND line of support is -2.6% lower from there.


Just to antagonize the bulls, we might cover, get long, and get more bullish than they were at 1217.


Maybe not. May’s Showers are in motion.



Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer


Spanish Spoo: SP500 Risk Management Levels, Refreshed - S P

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The Macau Metro Monitor, May 4th, 2010


ICONIC CLASS Global Gaming Business Magazine


Las Vegas Sands is counting on the convention business but it has been slow to ramp up, according to LVS COO Michael Leven. "Honestly, I would have liked to see more business on the books than we have right now," he says. "I think the nature of the facility being built over three to four years has caused meeting planners to delay making any commitments. But over the past few months, bookings have really picked up. Eventually, we'll own the MICE business in this town." "Based on the numbers we're seeing at Resorts World and what we expect to see at Marina Bay Sands, I think it's going to take a couple of years to reach the 65-45 mix that we have anticipated," Leven explains. "The casino business in the early going is going to dramatically exceed the MICE business and the room business. First of all, they're all not going to be ready immediately, and then there's a booking cycle that takes a while to kick in. So I think it's going to be well into 2012 before that starts to level off. You can't sustain these kinds of buildings without the gaming revenue. I've been in the hotel business long enough to know something about that income. The casino business is likely to be 75 percent to 80 percent of EBITDA, certainly for the first seven months, and likely for the first full year as well."


Leven doesn't believe there is opportunity for the company in the Bay State. "Massachusetts has some problems," he says. "You need to be in a location that is favorable and there are weather problems nine months of the year. We've had those conversations. If you're not contiguous to Boston and that infrastructure, you can't expect to drive enormous midweek convention business."


Maybe the most significant-but little known-initiative instituted by Jacobs is a leveling of the VIP commission rate with Melco Crown, which owns City of Dreams, across the street from the Venetian. The move allows the two integrated resorts to compete on a level playing field. Steve Jacobs, President of Sands China, said, "We lost a couple of junkets, but in about 60 to 90 days, they came back. What we found and what we proved through this experiment is if the brand is strong enough-if there's enough adhesion between the products and the services-the guests and the high-rolling VIPs like to play where they feel lucky and where they call home. It certainly benefited us and City of Dreams. The rates downtown now are at 1.4, 1.45, 1.5-which makes no sense to me at all. None. That being said, I think as long as we continue to develop product and experience ahead of just pure commission, we'll be fine."


According to Lusa, gross gambling revenues reached 14.1 billion patacas ($1.76 billion) in April.  SJM Holdings continues to lead in market share at 33%; Sands China had slightly more than 21%; Wynn Macau had 14%; and Melco Crown Entertainment controlled 13%.


Stanley Ho's Macau sports betting monopoly, Macau Slot, has won another one-year extension, just in time for the World Cup. Macau Slot is 48% owned by Ho's private Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau (STDM).


R3: Adibok for Real?


May 4, 2010





With Adidas’ reporting of 1Q results this morning, there is further confirmation of a resurgence in the athletic apparel and footwear marketplace. Importantly, we still maintain that this is not a zero sum game where Adi’s success is coming at the expense of Nike or Under Armour. In fact, we expect to hear a very positive stance from Nike tomorrow at the company’s analyst day and remain confident that this pick up and athletic apparel and footwear is sustainable.


While the headlines are largely in-line with Adidas’ recent positive pre-announcement, the details are worth noting. Interestingly, though not surprising, is the company’s change in “tone” and positioning of the Reebok Brand. The company is clearly focusing on and investing in the growth of the toning platform and is seeing early success as noted by most retail partners. To support continued growth Reebok will continue to benefit from incremental marketing spend. It is clear from this morning’s release that Reebok has quickly become a key driver of Adi’s North American business and will remain a key focus along with the World Cup over the remainder of the year. Our meeting with Hibbett Sporting Goods’ management last week also confirmed that the Reebok’s toning strategy goes well beyond a single shoe launch. A women’s fitness platform built around “muscle toning and conditioning” is very much in development.


Other key highlights from Adidas:


- All regions were positive in Q1, with the exception of China and other Asian markets. North America, up 14.3%, and Latin America, up 18%, were standouts for the quarter. Western Europe was positive, but lagged with an increase of 3.7%. Retail outperformed, posting an increase of 16.2% vs. a 1% increase for Wholesale. Reebok mentioned several times as a positive and a key driver of North American strength. Overall Reebok Brand sales were slightly positive, up 1.5%.


- Golf showing some signs of life with Taylor Made increasing by 15.9% in the quarter. 


- Inventories extremely well controlled and clean. Management noted improved sales and a substantial reduction in year over year clearance activity helped to control inventories and the results are solid. Inventories declined 20% on a total topline increase of 4%. Looking at it another way, the company added about €100mm of sales while taking €400mm out of inventory. This clearly bodes well for future company gross margins as well as for the overall health of the channel.


- Reaffirmed recently raised guidance, primarily driven by a stronger topline forecast and improved gross margins. Guidance calls for EPS of €2.05 to €2.30 vs. the Street at €2.26.


R3: Adibok for Real? - ADI SIGMA





- Movie Gallery’s decision to close all its stores may present some interesting opportunities for those looking to grow in smaller box strip locations. The company expects to shutter all 2,415 doors through a liquidation process over the next couple of months. We visited Hibbett Sporting Goods last week and the company expressed interest in picking some former Movie Gallery locations given their similar footprint.


- Keep an eye out for Laurent Potdevin’s new home. The former CEO of Burton announced his resignation after 15 years with the leading snowboard maker. Founder, Jake Burton and his wife, Donna, are expected to take the helm while the company searches for a new leader. Burton remains of the largest and privately owned action sports properties. We wouldn’t be surprised if speculation begins to rise about the company’s ownership fate as a result of the recent management change.


- Add off-price to the list of retailers still making their way into Manhattan. Word has it that TJ Maxx is coming to Manhattan’s east side, with a location set in the former Conran Shop high-end rhome store. The store is primarily located below ground, under the Queensboro bridge. While this may seem to be a risky move, the Bed Bath and Beyond next door is likely to alleviate fears given its customer focus vs. the more stereotypical “upper east side” shopper.





R3: Adibok for Real? - Calendar






Cambodian Apparel Manufacturers See Stabilization - A survey of managers from 66 Cambodian apparel factories found the majority expecting to increase or maintain their current workforce, and only 10% said they anticipated additional job losses. About one-third believed business conditions would remain as dire as they were last year. The factories polled were predominantly foreign owned, mainly by Asian investors, and on average had 700 apparel workers per facility. The factories specialized in producing T-shirts, pants, jeans, sportswear, underwear and pajamas. The optimistic outlook marks a sharp turnaround from last year, when the global recession triggered a sharp decline in demand for Cambodian apparel. Exports fell by more than 20% and 70 factories were shuttered. <>


More Info on the Gordmans IPO - Gordmans Inc., the 67-unit off-price department store chain operating in 16 Midwestern states, has filed plans with the Securities and Exchange Commission for a $75 mm IPO. Gordmans is trying to ride the consumer value wave that has enjoyed strong recent performance, similar to Dollar General. Stats: Headquartered in Omaha, stores average 50,000 square feet, features merchandise at up to 60% off department and specialty store prices, strongest category is juniors and young men's. The filing said it plans to expand the store base by 10% annually over the next several years.  <>


Li & Fung Ltd. Growing from Rebounding US Consumer Spending -  L&F, the biggest supplier for retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., climbed the most in more than three months in Hong Kong trading as U.S. consumer spending pointed to a sustainable economic recovery. Li & Fung surged 5.2% to HK$39.65, the biggest increase since Jan. 29. Consumer spending in the U.S. increased 0.6% in March, the most in five months and incomes climbed for the first time this year. <>


Jil Sander Extends Uniqlo Deal - German designer Jil Sander is extending her collaboration with Japanese retail brand Uniqlo’s parent company Fast Retailing after one year of partnership. The designer said she’s happy with the two collections of her new brand +J with Uniqlo, and getting the support she needed for her vision of high quality basic apparel with her minimalist signature and affordable price tags. <>


DKNY and KNL Team Up - Donna Karan International and S. Kumars Nationwide Limited have formed a joint venture and global licensing agreement for DKNY men’s wear. The deal formalizes and expands an interim agreement that replaces a similar deal DKI had with Marchpole Holdings plc. KNL will source, design, produce and distribute the full range of men’s wear apparel for DKNY Black Label, a bridge line. The agreement runs through 2015, with an option to extend the license for an additional seven years. The spring 2010 collection is the first to be offered by SKNL under this agreement. It is available in high-end department and speciality stores in addition to DKNY’s network of about 100 stores worldwide.  <>


Famous Footwear Kicks Off Mind Body Sole Tour - Famous Footwear kicked off the Mind Body Sole Tour featuring Ali Vincent, the first female winner of the NBC show, "The Biggest Loser,"* and author of "Believe It. Be It." During the tour, Ali will make special appearances at Famous Footwear stores where she will meet shoppers, sign autographs, provide fitness tips, share her personal health success story and discuss the importance of how toning and fitness footwear can help consumers take the first step to incorporating health and wellness into their lives. <>


Haiti May Enjoy Duty Free Access to US Market - Haitian apparel would enjoy duty-free access to the U.S. market until 2020 under a bipartisan bill introduced last week. The Haiti Economic Lift Program (HELP) Act greatly expands duty-free access to the U.S. market for Haitian textile and apparel exports and extends existing trade preference programs for Haiti through 2020 <>


Inflation's V-Bottom

"The prospects for significant inflation have increased, not only here, but around the world."

-Warren Buffett


One of our core Macro Themes for Q2 of 2010 is “Inflation’s V-Bottom.” Unlike most of Ben Bernanke and Timmy Geithner’s analytical liabilities, inflation in this interconnected world of prices is marked-to-marked, real-time.


Now Timmy has recently admitted that he is “not an economist” and that he really hasn’t ever had a job in the real world, so I won’t waste any time on his incompetence. He’s explained it himself. Bernanke, on the other hand, is a professor and a historian who twilights as an economist, but his forecasts since 2006 have proven to be at least as bad as some of the worst sell-side strategists on Wall Street. That’s pretty bad.


If you didn’t know, other than in your wages and the conflicted and compromises calculation of US Core CPI, inflation is everywhere. In addition to removing every day things like energy and food from its “core” calculus, the US Government has changed the calculation of inflation 9 times since 1996. That’s a lot.


Now the topic of inflation will make the hair on the backs of US stock market bulls stand on end (for the Fed’s Janet Yellen, that can’t be a pretty sight). Make no mistake - the Fed, doves, and bulls have to be in bed together for the SP500 to breach my Q2 intermediate term target of 1214 to the upside. Being willfully blind to inflation trends is a critical aspect of their storytelling.


There are 3 arguments that have a tendency to populate my inbox on the dovish side of this inflation debate:

  1. Unemployment is high
  2. Wages are low
  3. The Fed sees no inflation

I agree with all 3 of these points. Unemployment the lagging indicator that every monkey in the Wannabe An Economist League is staring at. Wages are not inflating anywhere near the annualized pace of prices that real people have to pay for things (the spread between what you make and what you pay is widening). And Bernanke, sees only what a great historian could  – his own confirmation bias about a depression that never happened.


The only great depression I see is the output of points 1-3 on Main Street. For the last decade, the US Federal Reserve has been trained to create a boom and bust economy for Wall Street because that’s how we all get paid. The grand total of US net job adds between 2000-2009 = ZERO.


The perma-bulls cheer Bernanke on because he is daring us to speculate on inflation at the same time that he says he sees none of it. He funds inflation by marking the American citizenry’s return on fixed incomes (savings) to zero percent, and letting Piggy Bankers fly by allowing Wall Street to borrow short and lend long on a marked-to-model fed funds rate.


This thesis isn’t just a machination of my own mind. It’s actually a solution. If you want to create stable consumer spending and small business hiring patterns in this country, give upstanding and unlevered Americans an opportunity to earn fixed incomes on their hard earned cash flows (savings). Warren Buffett gets this and so does the best central banker in the world – Mr. Glenn Stevens at the Reserve Bank of Australia.


Overnight, Stevens took the short term stock market pain for the sake of his citizenry’s long term fixed income and currency gains by raising the Aussi equivalent of a Fed Funds rate by another 25 basis points. This take Australia’s base lending rate 4.5% above the compromised and conflicted fear-mongering bureaucracies of Japan and the United States. This was the 6th time Stevens has raised rates since October – as he’s raised rates, Australian unemployment has gone down!


Without cutting and pasting his entire commentary, here’s what non-group-thinking Glenn had to say about the global economy:


“In both underlying and CPI terms, inflation over the most recent 12 months was around 3 percent. Nonetheless, the extent of decline from here may not be quite as much as earlier forecast and inflation now appears likely to be in the upper half of the target zone over the coming year.


With the risk of serious economic contraction in Australia having passed some time ago, the Board has been adjusting the cash rate towards levels that would be consistent with interest rates to borrowers being close to the average experience over the past decade or more. The Board expects that, as a result of today’s decision, rates for most borrowers will be around average levels. This represents a significant adjustment from the very expansionary settings reached a year ago.


The Board will continue to assess prospects for demand and inflation, and set monetary policy as needed to achieve an average inflation rate of 2-3 percent over time."


Now call me aggressive or call me Mucker - I’m cool with both; but what Warren Buffett, Glenn Stevens, and I are saying here is that inflation doesn’t happen in the vacuum of US domestic politics. Inflation is global. Inflation is created by debtor nations. Inflation, when marked-to-market, isn’t kind.


If you are in the camp that $86/oil or your $2 million dollar 3500 square foot house in Connecticut isn’t inflationary because of where you finally noticed the deflation from the mother of all global peaks in prices in 2008, well… that’s not the real world – sorry to break it to you. For the record, I have one of those inflated houses in CT and I do consider the gas in my cars “core.”


As of last night’s close, Chinese and Indian stocks hit new YTD and 8 week lows, respectively, because governments in those countries agree with governments from Australia to Brazil – inflation continues to accelerate sequentially. It’s just math.


My immediate term support and resistance levels for the SP500 are now 1192 and 1217, respectively.


Best of luck out there today,



Inflation's V-Bottom - STEVENS


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