Why the only "financials" you need to own are Mastercard (MA) and Visa (V) ~ market folly

Monday, June 2, 2008

Why the only "financials" you need to own are Mastercard (MA) and Visa (V)

I love it when the media (especially those yaks on cnbc) always ask "Is now the time to buy the financials?!?!" Personally, I steer clear from most of them, except for a revered few. And, they don't even really count as true 'financials.' I'm talking about Mastercard (MA) and Visa (V). I want to preface this by saying that by no means do I recommend jumping into these names right now at these levels. They've had massive runs and undoubtedly are due for pullbacks. But, I just want to put it on your radar for when they eventually do pull back. I've been selling into the strength and only have a little bit of each left and am dying for a pullback to load up on these names. I'm starting to feel empty inside because I can't have full positions in these dominant companies haha.

(Side Note: Now, don't get me wrong, there are 2 ACTUAL financials that I like, US Bank (USB) and Goldman Sachs (GS). USB because of the strong 5% dividend and solid dividend growth, as well as a pretty cautious management team. They seem to have weathered the majority of the storm in terms of the credit crisis/housing woes, and the stock mainly trades sideways. So, I just pocket the dividend and write some covered calls on that badboy to create some nice cashflow. Treat this name almost like a CD or a high yield savings account (but higher yielding). GS, on the other hand, is by far the best of breed investment bank and they get dragged through the mud with the other banks due to guilt by association. In the long run, look for them to distance themselves from the pack and truly outperform. Look to really load up on shares around $160 or even $150 if it trades that low. GS and USB are the only "true" financials I touch with a ten foot pole.)

The main thing that prompted me to post about MA and V has been SunTrust's analyst coverage of the names. Normally, I don't pay much attention to analyst estimates because half the time the analysts are wrong. But, I pay attention to these calls solely because time and time again, SunTrust has been ahead of the pack (and rightly so) in terms of realizing the true revenue that MA and V can grow. Notable Calls has been right on the money by flagging this for their readers. SunTrust now has a street high estimate for MA 2008 and 2009 EPS. Last week, SunTrust raised fical 2008, 2009, and 2010 EPS estimates for V. For V, they raise 2008 estimates from $2.04 to $2.11, 2009 estimates from $2.69 to $2.96, and 2010 estimates from $3.55 to $3.82. As you can see, these are pretty substantial boosts. Then they come right back this week and raise MA's estimates even higher. They boosted MA's 2008 estimates from $8.68 to $8.94 and 2009 estimates from $11.08 to $12.17. Once again, a pretty notable increase. SunTrust suggests that MA could see sustainable EPS growth of at least 20%, which is huge. The overall belief is that MA and V are seeing pricing power in their industry niche of payment processing with no credit risk. They have operating leverage (and are continuing to reduce operating costs) and are seeing massive volume growth. Voila - my investment thesis all along. Suntrust has an argument for those who say MA and V are rich in valuation now: They believe that this is due to the fact that analyst estimates are simply too low and flat out unrealistic.

This reminds me of the exact situation that has been occurring in the fertilizer segment of the agriculture trade. Analysts simply have too low of estimates and these companies are actually trading at much cheaper multiples than we think. 6 months later in the fertilizer game and analysts are STILL playing catch-up. Now, I don't think MA and V are seeing the kind of secular growth explosion that MOS or POT are obviously; but, at the same time, I definitely agree that analyst estimates are too low on MA and V and there is a secular trend building. SunTrust is the only analyst I'll follow on this group simply because they are leading the pack of analysts right now and until the others play catch-up, SunTrust is the only bank out there who "gets it." Through my time in the markets, I've found that certain analysts in each sector are just flat out better than others (surprise, surprise), and you've got to find those analysts and only listen to them. Listening to the others is just a truckload of garbage and noise. So, SunTrust is way ahead of the game here and look for others to follow suit once they crunch the numbers and take a look at what is really happening in the world of global payment processing and realize that their estimates are way too low.

The phrase "global payment processing" is all you really need to know about these companies. They are global stories and most of the growth is occurring away from American shores. Despite an economic slowdown/recession in America, MA and V continue to see huge revenue growth due to international consumers' willingness to use plastic rather than cash. The slowdown in spending from American consumers is not even a chink in the armor of these guys. Think of the rest of the globe as Americans 10 years ago. Eventually, everyone gets used to using debit/credit cards and starts carrying less cash. I can't underscore this point enough. The international opportunity for these names is huge. If they can get consumers in other countries to use their cards even HALF as much as American consumers, they will see record numbers.

Plain and simple, MA and V are payment processors who bear ZERO credit risk. If you want some credit risk, you can always go with some American Express (AXP), if that's your cup of tea. I can see the appeal there, and so does Blue Ridge Capital (seeing as they really loaded up on shares of AXP last quarter). But, I prefer MA and V due to the sheer volume of cards they have in consumers' hands worldwide. I want to stress again that I usually do not pay a ton of attention to individual analyst estimates. But, when you see a firm come out with street-high estimates, constantly leading the pack of analysts, it gets your attention. I think these guys are right on the money and that's why I wanted to point it out. They've been talking my investment thesis in these processors all along. Oh, and did I mention that Lone Pine Capital has a pretty hefty position in MA and V, as detailed here.

Disclosure - long MA and V at the time of writing, but have been selling into strength lately. Looking for a pullback of any size to really begin to add. Keep these names on your radar.