Is Visa a Buy?

The electronic payments leader has been one of the best growth stories of the last decade.

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This article was originally published on Fool.com. All figures quoted in US dollars unless otherwise stated.

Cash is less and less popular with consumers, and is being steadily replaced by digital payment methods. Taking advantage of this -- and an economy that's been growing since the 2008 financial crisis -- Visa (NYSE: V), the leader of the electronic payment industry, has been one of the best blue chip stocks since going public in March 2008.

Data by YCharts.

Rather than worry about missing the boat, investors should give the company a look today. Proven winners tend to keep winning, and Visa has a lot going for it that should keep the stock rising over the long haul.

Visa paying the bills, and then some

Visa operates a digital network that handles cash and financial transactions. The company does no lending itself, but instead charges a small fee every time a transaction is made -- often referred to as a toll, much like a tollbooth collects fees from vehicles before they can cross a bridge or enter a highway. 

It's an incredibly simple but powerful business model. Paired with other ancillary services like payment security, cross-border transaction services, and fraud protection, operating a payment network (rather than actually issuing cards or credit, or providing direct banking services) means the company keeps costs low and operates at an incredibly high profit margin -- 65.9% in the trailing 12-months ending June 30, 2019, to be exact. That's substantially higher than the margins of its smaller peers, and it made that margin while raking in nearly $4 billion a quarter through the first nine months of fiscal year 2019. Visa is also using its sizable operating profits to invest in continued growth and return cash to investors. 

V Operating Margin (TTM) Chart

Data by YCharts.

That has equated to bottom-line growth that's stronger than revenue gains. For example, during the fiscal 2019 third quarter, Visa's revenue was up 11%, but earnings per share adjusted for one-time items grew 14%. That is due in large part to the $2.7 billion returned to shareholders through stock repurchases (which reduces share count, thus boosting earnings per share), as well as a dividend payment currently yielding 0.6% per year.

The war on cash

Visa wasn't the inventor of cashless payments, but it was the first nationwide credit card payment processing company in 1958. Mastercard (NYSE: MA) came out a few years later, but Visa's early move means it's still in pole position today -- Visa's trailing 12-month revenue as of this writing was $22.3 billion, compared to Mastercard's $15.7 billion.

Myriad other digital payment networks have arrived on the scene in recent years, including companies like PayPal (NASDAQ: PYPL) and Square (NYSE: SQ). Other technologies like blockchain are also gaining traction in an effort to better secure merchant, consumer, and multinational organization transactions in a world that is fast becoming digital-first.

All of this rapid change hasn't meant Visa is in trouble, though. Cash is still largely the default method of purchasing goods and services in most of the world, meaning Visa and friends have plenty of places to do battle. The company also has ample money on hand to keep updating its systems and evolving with the times. Plus, researcher McKinsey expects digital payment revenue to keep growing in the high single-digits, and reach nearly $3 trillion in 2022. 

Put simply, there is plenty of growth to go around, and Visa is still very much at the forefront of the conversation when it comes to digital payments. The company is certainly worth consideration, along with other big digital payment processing networks like Mastercard and PayPal.

This article was originally published on Fool.com. All figures quoted in US dollars unless otherwise stated.

Nicholas Rossolillo and his clients own shares of Mastercard and PayPal Holdings. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. owns shares of and recommends Mastercard, PayPal Holdings, Square, and Visa. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. has the following options: short October 2019 $97 calls on PayPal Holdings and short January 2020 $70 puts on Square. The Motley Fool Australia has recommended Mastercard and PayPal Holdings. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Scott Phillips.

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