- MasterCard performance stalled out in 2015.
- A beat on first quarter earnings has not lifted the stock.
- MasterCard is tied to international growth.
Mastercard (NYSE:MA) has done well for shareholders over the last five years but its performance now lags its peers in the payment space. The reason is that it is more globally-focused than other payment companies, which hurts it at a time when the dollar is strong and global growth is uncertain.
The company's return to shareholders over the last five years is over 200%, but over the last year that has slowed to about 2%, including a dividend that currently yields 0.8%. The debt load, 54% of assets, is nearly double that of rival Visa (NYSE:V) and its first quarter earnings were actually down 3%.
At its current price of about $95/share, MasterCard seems fully valued while more aggressive players in the payment space are continuing to move higher. Visa, for instance, is up over 10% over the last year while MasterCard stock is flat. Pure play payment company Total Systems Total System Services (NYSE:TSS) is up over 32% in the last year.
The first quarter numbers saw MasterCard purchase volumes rise 12%, year over year, but net income fell 6% to $959 million, 86 cents per share, from $1.02 billion or 89 cents in 2015. MasterCard is weakened by the fact that it is a global network, so earnings don’t translate into dollars well, and it is being hurt right now by low gas prices, which reduce the amount of spending going through the system.
The company insisted at its April conference call it will continue to spend heavily on technology, especially in China, and it’s this spending that is limiting profit margins. Companies like TSS, which are U.S. centric, don’t face these kinds of headwinds.
With oil and gas prices increasing, turnover should rise for the second quarter. But the Federal Reserve move to possibly hike interest rates in June and “normalize” rates over time will keep the dollar strong, and restrict MasterCard’s earnings potential.
The management message was “steady as she goes," acknowledging that the fate of the company is tied directly to the growth of the global economy. What this means, for investors, is that if you want to own part of the payment space, you should look to MasterCard mainly if you believe the dollar is going to fall, the global economy is going to strengthen, and oil prices are going to increase.
When those things happen, MasterCard stock will outperform its peers. Until those things happen, this is a defensive play to balance your portfolio against a change in the economic trend.