Australia’s Crown Resorts shares jump on break-up plan

SYDNEY: Australia’s No. 1 casino firm Crown Resorts Ltd won support from investors and analysts for a plan to split the business, reigniting speculation billionaire owner James Packer may take part of the company private.

Ending months of speculation, Crown said late Wednesday it plans to spin off its overseas assets to protect Australian investors from the effects of a Chinese gambling crackdown that has ravaged Macau casinos for two years.

Shares in Crown, which has a market capitalisation of about A$9 billion (US$6.6bil), jumped 13% to A$13.23 in a flat overall market, hitting a 10-month high and posting their biggest one-day rally since 2009.

Analysts said that the reaction reflected relief that Crown’s shareholders may soon benefit from fast growing turnover at its Australian casinos in Melbourne and Perth, with another due to be added in Sydney, without a drag from Macau.

The proposal could also signal that Packer, who owns 53% of Crown, could reconsider taking the company private in concert with private equity interests, a prospect which has been the subject of speculation for months.

“Macau is the problem, so splitting the business I’d say is a direct result of feedback from private equity players, that they’re not interested in financing a privatisation of the Macau business,” said CMC Markets chief strategist Michael McCarthy.

CLSA analyst Sacha Krien said investors were also drawn to a proposed listing of a 49% stake in Crown’s Australian hotel assets, which was part of its plan to split the company.

“There’s some genuine excitement about what sort of value can be generated, given some of the hotel deals out on the market,” Krien said.

“The share price reaction is probably more a reflection of the property IPO.” In a statement issued by Crown, Packer, who quit the board in 2015, said he fully supported the board’s decision to split the business.

In a note to investors, Citi upgraded its target price for Crown to A$14.70, from A$14.50.

“Whilst there are still many unknowns at this stage we view the proposals as a positive for shareholders,” Citi analyst Rohan Sundram said. – Reuters

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