Mastercard (MA)

The payments sector came under heavy pressure last week as a resurgence of Covid-19 cases swept across Europe and sparked fears of further lockdowns. It’s a sector that we follow closely here at Capital 19 because we have these companies spread across most of our portfolios. If you read our stock reports you’ll know that we have recommended companies such as Visa, American Express and PayPal in the past. It’s a great sector to be in. But it’s been struggling during the pandemic which has meant price gains have been muted. But that means it gives us a chance to add another payment provider to the list. One that has lost ground so far in 2021 but could be ready to start moving higher again.

Card companies have been especially hit hard during the shutdowns. A lot of their income relies on travellers and cross border payments. They make money on the transactions, they make money on the conversions, and when that disappears, as it did when overseas travel became non-existent, it hit hard. Despite this Amex is up 62% since we picked it back in March of 2020. While PayPal, which is more reliant on internet payments, is still 70% higher. Visa, which we picked in November of last year, is still the same price as when we recommended it. That’s been the plight of most payment companies this year.

For the year to date, American Express has outperformed and is up 42% in 2021. However, competitor Visa is down 7%, while Paypal is down 19.42%. It seems like every time they start to take off they are dragged down again by some sort of covid resurgence. Nevertheless, we still think they are great buys and have no qualms in keeping them as mainstays in our portfolios. Today’s subject report Mastercard is also down in 2021. It has lost 4.75% since the start of the year which means we aren’t going to be losing anything by jumping in late.

Mastercard has lost around 7% since the start of November as European cases started kicking off again. Countries such as Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands have seen their highest infection rates since the pandemic began in early 2020. Thankfully the death rates aren’t as high as vaccination rates remain strong. However, hospitalisation rates are creeping up, and German chancellor Angela Merkel has claimed it is her country’s “worst moment of the pandemic to date”. Last week Europe had 2.5 million cases and 30,000 covid related deaths. It’s no wonder investors are getting the wobbles again.

But it’s our job to keep an eye on these companies and pick them up when they’re down. It’s why we’ve taken another look at Mastercard. Visa has always been our favourite. It’s been a member of the 19-19 for the last decade. While PayPal has always been our pick for winning the battle for online payments. Mastercard however has flown under the radar. It’s been the little brother to Visa since its inception and can be easily overlooked, which belies the fact that it also is a massive player.

There are four main players in the credit card space. Those being Visa, Amex, Discover, and Mastercard. Between them, Visa and MasterCard account for approximately 80% of the market. Mastercard, for its part, accounts for pretty much one-quarter of all credit card purchases. It’s certainly not the main player, but being smaller can sometimes be an advantage. Especially in a fast-moving industry such as payments which is increasingly relying on technological advancements to move forward.

Mastercard seems to have been more successful at innovating than its competitors. In many circles, it is now considered just as much a technology firm as it is a finance one. Its focus under former CEO Ajay Banga and new CEO Michael Miebach has been to expand the global digital economy rather than rely on the traditional card payment system. Executive vice-president Ken Moore describes it as such: “We are best known for payments, but we are a technology company in commerce and we innovate way beyond the financial transaction to all different points of interaction that a business or a consumer has with a provider of goods or services. It’s about extending the range of products and services and serving new clients beyond banks. We have no intention of stopping what we do in payments, but we want to be much broader and innovate around points of interaction in commerce.” 80% of Mastercard’s employees are now in technology roles.

There is a large market out there of people who live outside the regular banking system, and even more that reside outside of the digital economy. It is a significant growth area for payment companies that can get it right. Mobile phone growth is key to this growth. Mastercard’s Duka Connect product, for example, turns any smartphone into a point of sale device. It uses AI computer vision, and AR identifying technology to recognise a product and charge the consumer without the need for special equipment. In markets such as Latin America, where credit cards are less common but smartphones are prevalent, it is the way of the future.

Mastercard recently moved into the digital currency world when it finalised its purchase of cryptocurrency security company CipherTrace. Its system is primarily responsible for preventing fraud and protecting digital assets. Mastercard wants to get in on the action of payment transactions of all shapes and sizes. They’re also moving heavily into the recent “buy now pay later” phenomenon with its Mastercard instalments product. They say the product boosts sales and reduces cart abandonment making it a popular choice for retailers. Wherever there is growth you will likely find Mastercard.

Revenue grew by 30% in the last quarter with profit up by 62%. Importantly, cross-border revenue which relies on consumer travel was up 62% in the last quarter, and there is only further growth to the upside as more countries reopen and Europe reemerges from lockdowns. At its investor event two weeks ago they stated they are aiming for revenue growth in the “high-teens” and earnings per share growth in the “low-twenties”, both of which will top analyst estimates if achieved. It wants to see its services business, which is responsible for everything outside its credit card business, accounting for 35% of revenue in the current year, which is up from 20% in 2018.

The future looks bright for Mastercard. And while I still want to hold onto my Visa, American Express, and PayPal positions, I’m finding that it doesn’t make sense to leave out Mastercard when it is doing such a great job at diversifying its business. It’s down around 16% from its July highs which coincides with the Delta variant sweeping the globe. With a brighter 2022 in mind, it’s a great time to be taking advantage of the low share price. Buy on the dips.