Mastercard Stock Could Soon Perk Up

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The Mastercard office in the Flatiron District of New York.

Amir Hamja/Bloomberg

Mastercard (MA) stock, a laggard for most of the pandemic, could get a nice lift as international travel finally picks up.

The shares are only about 1.2% higher than where they stood before the pandemic-induced bear market, versus the S&P 500 ‘s climb of 27% for the same period. One of the biggest problems: a decline in cross-border revenue as countries outside the U.S. have struggled with Covid-19 and reopenings. That revenue stream depends on consumers traveling abroad and using their credit cards, producing fees from merchants. 

Cross border revenue “Is really a tailwind for all of 2022,” says Rhys Williams, chief investment officer of Spouting Rock Asset Management, which owns the stock.  He thinks global travel will invariably pick up as the Delta variant recedes, and he already sees improvement in airline passenger volumes.

Assuming the trends continue, cross-border transaction revenue should soon return to prepandemic levels, Williams reckons. The company’s most recent quarterly report revealed that such sales in July were about 79% of its July 2019 levels. For the entire quarter, cross-border sales were $1.08 billion, or about a quarter of total sales of $4.53 billion. 

Should that revenue return to prior levels, the company could easily beat or meet analysts’ estimates. That’s because the company has strong operating leverage: every additional dollar of revenue translates into more profit dollars because the company doesn’t have to spend much more to rake in more fees. Analysts are currently looking for earnings per share to increase by 30% in 2022, to $10.62, according to FactSet data.

Higher earnings could be a nice driver of the stock for the short-term, but Master Card also strikes Williams as a long-term keeper. It is a prime beneficiary of the fast-growing shift from traditional payment methods to online — and that is seen in its long-term sales and earnings forecasts. Analysts currently expect revenue and EPS to compound at a 14% and 22% clip, respectively for the next three years. “Why I like Mastercard is because, let’s say Delta doesn’t go away, they are still in a position to grow next year,” Williams says. It has the “secular tailwinds of online.” 

Williams sees the stock, recently $344.20, rising in line with the earnings growth, suggesting that a price of $420 is within reach. The stock is trading at 35 times the next 12 months of projected EPS, and while that is slightly higher than its five-year average of 32 times, the average S&P 500 stock is also trading above its prepandemic trend. 

Of course, there are risks. Rising bond yields, which many on Wall Street forecast , could put a dent into Mastercard’s valuation in the near-term. Higher bond yields make future profits less valuable and Mastercard is looking for large profits many years down the line.  Also, new programs like Amazon.com (AMZN) and Affirm ‘s (AFRM) buy-now-pay-later partnership could eat into some of Mastercard’s market share. Fortunately, Mastercard recently announced it is launching a buy-now-pay-later business called Mastercard Installments. 

With any luck, investors will wind up with buy-now-gain-later.

Write to Jacob Sonenshine at jacob.sonenshine@barrons.com