Visa Inc (V), Mastercard Inc (MA), Discover Financial Services (DFS): Can The Gains In Payment Processing Continue?

Visa, American Express, MastercardVisa Inc (NYSE:V) is the operator of the largest retail payments network in the world, and has performed very well for its shareholders over the past couple of years. In just the last year, Visa has risen an impressive 32% to the current level of around $165, just below the all-time highs reached a month ago or so. And to think, after getting in to the IPO at $44 and selling shortly later in the $60s, I thought I had made an awesome trade. Kudos to those investors who got in on day one and had the faith and foresight to hold their shares! Anyways, after these gains, my question is whether or not Visa Inc (NYSE:V) may be getting a little bit ahead of itself.

Visa Inc (V): Can the Gains in Payment Processing Continue?

Visa Details

Visa Inc (NYSE:V) makes most of its money from card service fees, data processing fees, and international transaction fees. Service fees make up about 38% of Visa’s revenues and include fees paid by customers to participate in certain card programs. Data processing fees account for 33% of revenues and are primarily fees charged to merchants who accept Visa cards as payment. Finally, International transaction fees make up 24% of Visa’s revenues and are the fees charged when the merchant and card issuer are in different countries.

Visa Inc (NYSE:V) plans on continuing the expansion of its payments network, particularly in international markets. Emerging markets are just transitioning to the mainstream use of non-cash payments, and this is an area where Visa sees a particular opportunity for growth. Think of the U.S. in the late ’90s and early 2000s. While credit cards were already widely accepted, it was not until this point when credit cards became the dominant way to pay for everyday items. Consider Visa Inc (NYSE:V)’s revenues over the past decade. This is the potential for credit cards in emerging markets now:

Visa Inc (V): Can the Gains in Payment Processing Continue?

Valuation and Alternatives

Visa trades at a lofty valuation of 26.4 times TTM earnings, but don’t be fooled by that high number. Visa Inc (NYSE:V) is expected to earn $7.34 per share this year, growing to $8.50 and $9.93 in 2014 and 2015, as analysts seem to have great confidence in the potential for expansion of the payment network. These numbers translate to an average annual earnings growth rate of 17%, which more than justifies the high valuation. Making Visa even more appealing is its debt-free balance sheet and almost $3 billion in cash.

The most logical alternatives are other payment networks, such as Mastercard Inc (NYSE:MA) or Discover Financial Services (NYSE:DFS).