Stock Wars: Mastercard Vs. Visa

Benzinga’s weekly Stock Wars matches up two leaders in a major industry sector with the goal of determining which company is the better investment.

This week, the duel is between two leaders in the credit card world: Mastercard Inc. MA and Visa Inc. V.

The Case For Mastercard: This company traces its roots to 1966 when Marine Midland Bank brought together a number of banks and regional bankcard associations to form the Interbank Card Association as a rival to Bank of America Corp.'s BAC BankAmericard, the forerunner of Visa. While Interbank grew quickly to 150 members by 1967, it had problems creating a satisfactory marketing brand until the endeavor was renamed Master Charge in 1969. The MasterCard name was adopted in 1979.

Today, the Purchase, New York-headquartered company provides payments processing network solutions in more than 210 countries and territories under the MasterCard, Maestro and Cirrus brands. Mastercard conducted its IPO in 2006.

The company has positioned itself as a data leader with its Mastercard Spending Pulse reports, and it has expanded into the cryptocurrency space through its Mastercard Start Path Crypto program focused on start-up companies using blockchain technology and in its recent acquisition of CipherTrace, a cryptocurrency intelligence company offering digital asset security and fraud solutions to banks, exchanges and other financial institutions.

MasterCard has been on an acquisition spree recently. Among its recent purchases are the personalization platform and decision engine company Dynamic Yield from McDonald’s Corp MCD; Arcus FI, which provides delivery of bill pay solutions and other real-time payment applications across Latin America; and Aiia, a European open banking technology provider that offers single and secure API access to banks and fintech companies.

Mastercard also gained notice in October with the debut of Touch Card, a new accessible card standard for blind and partially sighted people who are unable to identify embossed credit and debit cards through touching.

In its most recent earnings report, the third-quarter data published Oct. 28, Mastercard recorded $5 billion in net revenue up from $3.8 billion one year earlier, and net income of $2.4 billion, compared to $1.5 billion in the previous year. The company’s $2.44 diluted earnings per share was up from the $1.51 in the third quarter of 2020.

“In terms of how people are spending, card-present volumes continue to improve as people are getting out and shopping more while we are still seeing sustained strength in card-not-present spend,” said CEO Michael Miebach in the third-quarter earnings call. “So regardless of whether people want to shop online or in-person, our solutions support that choice and position us well to participate in both trends.”

Mastercard shared closed trading on Wednesday at $361.29, sandwiched between its 52-week range of $306 and $401.50.

Related Link: The complete Benzinga Stock Wars series

The Case For Visa: This company has its roots in the September 1958 launch of the BankAmericard credit card program from Bank of America. When Interbank began licensing its cards to financial institutions, Bank of America followed suit with the BankAmericard program and the bank joined the Master Charge program. In 1970, BankAmericard was spun off as a stand-alone entity, which was renamed Visa in 1976.

Today, the San Francisco-headquartered Visa offers payments processing network solutions in more than 200 countries and territories. The company held its IPO in 2006, the same year as Mastercard.

Not unlike Mastercard, Visa presents itself as a data provider via its U.S. Spending Momentum Index. And it is also moving further into the cryptocurrency space.

Earlier this month, it launched the Global Crypto Advisory Practice, an offering within Visa Consulting & Analytics that was promoted as a way “to help clients and partners advance their own crypto journey.” In March, Visa became the first major payments network to settle transactions in the stablecoin USD Coin, and in February the company partnered with First Boulevard, a digitally native neobank focused on building generational wealth for the Black community, on a pilot program featuring Visa’s suite of crypto APIs. The program enables First Boulevard customers to purchase, custody and trade digital assets held by Anchorage, a federally chartered digital asset bank.

Visa’s recent acquisition activities were limited to the purchase of Currencycloud, a London-headquartered platform that enables banks and fintechs to provide foreign exchange solutions for cross-border payments, and Tink, an open banking platform that enables financial institutions, fintechs and merchants to build tailored financial management tools, products and services for European consumers and businesses based on their financial data.

In its most recent earnings report, the fourth quarter data published Oct. 26, Visa recorded net revenues of $6.5 billion, unchanged from one year earlier, and net income of $3.58 billion, up from $3.52 billion in the previous year. The company’s $1.65 diluted earnings per share was a mere 3-cent uptick from the $1.62 in the fourth quarter of 2020.

“Despite the backdrop of a global pandemic, this quarter, we also set a record with total global payments volume of $2.8 trillion,” said Chairman and CEO Al Kelly in the fourth-quarter earnings call. “Cross-border volume, excluding intra-Europe, was 86% of 2019, 4 points better than Q3 and up 46% year over year. And processed transactions were 124% of 2019, up 4 points from Q3 and up 21% year over year.”

Visa shares closed for trading on Wednesday at $218.17, sandwiched between its 52-week range of $190.10 and $252.67.

The Verdict: Rarely has a Stock Wars duel been so evenly matched as this comparison between Mastercard and Visa. Both companies are solid and predictable — that’s a compliment — and both have been checking the right boxes to enable their growth.

The only problems facing these companies are the current states of COVID-19 and inflation. With COVID infections on the rise and several countries going into lockdown, it is unclear how Mastercard and Visa’s early 2022 financial performances will bear out. Also, with inflation driving prices to new and unhappy heights, it is unclear if consumer spending will slow down during the first stretch of the new year.

Also, it is hard not to notice that shares of both companies are in the middle of their 52-week ranges. In view of their latest quarterly reports, it is easy to assume they would be trending towards their respective 52-week highs.

Thus, the verdict in this Stock Wars duel is a draw — you can’t go wrong with having either company in your portfolio, although investors and traders who are nervous about how early 2022 will play out might want to take a wait-and-see approach here.

Photo: CircOD / Pixabay

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