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Visa Stock May Not Be the Best Credit-Card Name

Will Healy

The dominance of the Visa (NYSE:V) payment network continues to drive volumes and market share to the company. In this increasingly important industry, Visa stock is benefiting from the fact that its payment network processes about 61.2% of U.S. transactions.

In a world that’s using less cash, the credit-card industry will prosper, enabling Visa stock to remain a winner over the long-term. However, the question about V stock is not if it will go up, but if it remains a better buy than its peers.

Visa Stock Will Rise With Its Industry

It’s steady as she goes for Visa stock. Bolstered by the company’s dominant market share and the continuing march towards a cashless society, V stock is continuing its slow, sustained move higher. After flirting with single-digit prices during the 2008 financial crisis, it began to move steadily higher. Today, it has risen more than 15-fold since that time. The Visa stock price has now surged to around $170.

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As both myself and others have pointed out, Visa stock remains pricey. The company’s growth and favorable business conditions have taken the forward price-earnings (PE) ratio of V stock above 27.4. However, the average PE ratio of V stock over the last five years is 32.9. Estimated earnings growth of 16.5% this year and its average earnings increase of 20.84% per year over the previous five years has helped to support the high multiples of V stock.

Moreover, even market selloffs have resulted in relatively mild pullbacks by V stock. Between late September and the week of Christmas, Visa stock price fell by a little bit less than 20%. However, its PE ratio remained well in the 20s during that time. Also, like most stocks, it quickly recovered. For this reason, I would not expect any significant declines in Visa stock price anytime soon. Given these factors, the long-term owners of V stock should continue to hold onto their shares. Moreover, even at these levels, those buying V stock face few risks.

Visa Stock Versus Its Peers

The only reason to not buy  Visa stock may involve how well it compares to its key peers. Given the potential growth of cashless payments throughout the world, Mastercard (NYSE:MA), American Express (NYSE:AXP), and Discover Financial (NYSE:DFS) should also generate double-digit profit growth, despite their smaller market shares.

However, after looking at  card stocks’ PE ratios and growth rates, it becomes clear that the market has been willing to support higher price-to-earnings-to growth (PEG) ratios for companies with higher market shares. Visa stock supports a PEG ratio of 1.9 versus only 1.75 for Mastercard. However, for this year, analysts, on average, predict Mastercard will report earnings growth of 17.4% versus only 16.5% for Visa. American Express, long a Warren Buffett favorite, trades at a PEG ratio of 1.57. AXP’s expected profit growth comes in at only 10.8%. However, it has a much lower forward PE of around 13.5.

Still, it is Discover Financial whose valuation stands out. Its PEG ratio comes in at only 0.7. It also supports a forward PE ratio of only about 8.2. Despite this single-digit multiple, analysts expect its profit to rise  12.4% this year.

In some respects, DFS stock is cheap for a reason. It holds only a 2.2% share of card volumes, a decline from 2.3% last year. Visa remains the dominant player in this area, holding steady at 61.2%. However, in the current environment, all payment card companies will prosper.

Moreover, since 2005, DFS has partnered with UnionPay, the dominant payment network in China. From a worldwide standpoint, UnionPay comes in second to only Visa on card volumes. The U.S.-China trade war may add a degree of uncertainty. However, with such an ally, DFS should continue to grow.

The Bottom Line on Visa Stock

Visa stock will rise over the long-term, but some of its peers may fare better on a relative basis. V stock will likely remain expensive, but no major challenges have emerged to its dominance in the U.S. or to its double-digit earnings increases.

When it comes to PEG ratios, Visa stock holds up well, slightly besting Mastercard and coming in only slightly higher than American Express’s ratio. Still, value investors will find  Discover Financial stock to be a relative bargain, as it could help a growing, China-based peer enter the U.S. market.

As a result, investors who don’t want to pay the high multiple carried by V stock have other choices. However,the owners of V stock will continue to benefit from Visa’s U.S. dominance and the continuing move to a more cashless society.

As of this writing, Will Healy did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned stocks. You can follow Will on Twitter at @HealyWriting.

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