5 Gaming and Lodging Casino Stocks Could Be Red Hot 2018 Buys

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All you need to step up to the gaming table is a little extra money, and with an economy that looks like it is poised to take-off, and wages finally starting to go higher, recreation and travel looks to benefit. One of the best areas in that sector is the gaming and lodging casino stocks, which after years of so-so performance look to be perking up in a big way, and just may be one of the top sectors to own in 2018.

In a new research report from the analysts at J.P. Morgan, they remain very positive on the top gaming and lodging casino stocks, and with good reason. Years of consolidation have transformed the sector into a much leaner and meaner arena, and could be providing investors outstanding returns going forward. The analysts noted the reasons why they are positive in the research report.

We continue to see attractive upside in U.S. gaming stocks, relative to other areas of our coverage universe, given an appealing combination of (1) solid regional fundamentals, (2) ability to grow margins through more efficient marketing (a broad theme) among an increasingly rational environment, (3) still reasonable free cash flow Yields, (4) relatively high short interest, and (5) the potential for mergers and acquisitions to lift valuations further.

The J.P. Morgan team is very bullish on five top companies, all are rated Overweight.

Boyd Gaming

This top company generated 55% of the company’s EBITDA in the south and midwest parts of the U.S. Boyd Gaming Corporation (NYSE: BYD) operates as a multi-jurisdictional gaming company. It operates through three segments: Las Vegas Locals, Downtown Las Vegas, and Midwest and South. The company owns and operates 24 gaming entertainment properties located in Nevada, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

The company also owns and operates a travel agency and a captive insurance company that underwrites travel-related insurance in Hawaii. As of December 31, 2016, Boyd operated 1,314,557 square feet of casino space, 31,006 slot machines, 656 table games, and 9,513 hotel rooms.

The company remains a favorite for Las Vegas locals, is substantially levered to the Las Vegas market (approximately 45% of segment EBITDA). The company generally targets largely locals in this market. The company’s Downtown properties also draw Hawaiian tourists. In general, Las Vegas locals performance is less impacted by weekends versus weekdays in a period than other gaming markets would be, as a substantial portion of the local economy works in hospitality.

Shareholders are paid a small 0.66% dividend. The J.P. Morgan price target is posted at $32, and the Wall Street consensus target is set at $28.07. The shares closed Monday at $30.46.

Pinnacle Entertainment

This is a smaller capitalization company that could offer investors big upside potential. Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. (NASDAQ: PNK) operates 15 casino gaming and entertainment businesses, located in Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada and Ohio. On April 28, 2016 the former Pinnacle Entertainment closed on the $4.9 billion sale of the majority of its real estate assets to Gaming & Leisure Properties, Inc. Subsequent to that transaction, new Pinnacle was spun off in a taxable transaction.

The company posted solid third quarter results that came in ahead of many analysts estimates. In addition, the trends for the company look very positive going forward, and there remains a fair amount of merger chatter surrounding the company and other casino operators.

The J.P. Morgan price objective is $33, and that compares with the Wall Street consensus target of $29.56. The shares ended trading on Monday at $28.91.