This year has not been a blockbuster for the market, but it's been just good enough to keep major stock indexes at or near all-time high territory. Case in point: the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) today came within 1.3 points of hitting 17,000 for the first time ever before retreating a bit in late trading.
On a broad basis, some positive economic reports put investors in a buying mood today. The final Markit index reading of U.S. manufacturing in June was 57.3, the highest level since May 2010. The Commerce Department said spending on construction projects rose 0.1% in May to a seasonally adjusted rate of $956.1 billion, not terribly strong but a pickup from a slow first quarter. Finally, the Institute for Supply Management manufacturing index fell slightly to 55.3% last month, but the new orders index jumped 2 full percentage points to $58.9%, another sign that the second half of 2014 will be better than the first.
Betting on a rebound in the second half of 2014
Dow Jones member Visa (NYSE: V ) was up 2% despite not posting any significant news today. Visa's stock is actually down 3.4% in 2014; the company was hurt by a slow economy early in the year, as well as a higher stock price than most Dow companies at a 25 P/E ratio.
On the plus side, Visa also has some of the best growth prospects as one member of an oligopoly in payment processing with MasterCard, American Express, and (distantly) Discover. Visa can ride consumer spending growth and an increase in electronic payments to higher revenue and profits, as it has done since going public.
What many do not appreciate is that Visa's network would be nearly impossible to replicate worldwide. UnionPay is building a network within China, but that's going to be nearly impossible to export to Europe and the U.S., where others are well established. That sort of sticky customer relationship keeps customers paying with Visa and even allows the company to generate high margins from retailers.
Today's pop may just be hope that consumers will spend more in the second half of the year, but if they do it'll be a further boon for Visa. The company is in an enviable position in a growth industry where building a competitor would be nearly impossible. With that in mind, a 25 P/E ratio doesn't sound too expensive at all.
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