2019 is in the books, and it was a great year for fintech investors. The biggest names in the business, Visa (V 0.27%) and Mastercard (MA 0.49%), ran up 42% and 58%, respectively, and small but important financial data analytics outfit Fair Isaac (FICO 1.46%) doubled in value. Rebounding from the first negative calendar year return for U.S. stocks in a decade, 2019 was simply a great time to be invested.
There's a good chance that won't change in 2020. Annual spending on fintech is expected to grow in the low 20% range for the next few years, so buying some proven winners for the long haul at the start of the new year could be a great move. I think LendingTree (TREE -3.24%), Euronet Worldwide (EEFT -1.17%), and PayPal (PYPL -0.92%) look like especially timely additions in January.
Using the web to find the best banking services
First up is LendingTree, a leader in the online loan marketplace and one of the best-performing stocks of the last decade with an over 4,500% return. Even after that epic run, the company is still small, with a market cap of just $3.94 billion, as shares were in penny stock territory during the Great Recession of 2008-09.
In the last couple of years, though, LendingTree has run into some bumpy trails. While shares have rebounded nicely since the last time I caught up with the financial services aggregator, the stock is still down some 30% from all-time highs.
The reason has a lot to do with the company's transition from high growth to a strategy that balances new revenue with increasing the bottom line. 2019 should be the first year LendingTree exceeds $1 billion in revenue, with an expected $1.10 to $1.115 billion representing a 45% year-over-year increase at the midpoint of guidance provided at the end of the third quarter. Adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization, the company's preferred method for measuring profits) is expected to be at least $197 million, up from $153 million in 2018.
Some of those gains are driven by the company's acquisitions, including $105 million paid for insurance and credit card site ValuePenguin and $370 million for insurance policy finder QuoteWizard in late 2018. As LendingTree laps the revenue bumps from its takeovers, 2020 is expected to yield just a 13% to 18% revenue growth rate and 12% to 17% adjusted EBITDA growth rate in 2020. If the company can keep delivering on its expectations, the stock's price to free cash flow (money left after operating and capital expenses are paid) ratio of 31.7 looks like a reasonable price to pay for this long-term winner.
Electronic payments with big bottom-line payoff
Euronet Worldwide has been a bumpy ride for investors in the last year as well. Though it's sporting a 54% gain in 2019, the stock is down from its all-time highs set early in the year by nearly 8%. With a price to free cash flow ratio of only 19.9, though, this fintech company looks like a real value.
The global operator of ATMs, money transfer locations (like its partnership with Walmart (WMT 0.86%) via its subsidiary Ria), and digital payments cloud software has delivered big gains in operating profit margins in the last few years. As a result, continued revenue growth has translated into even higher bottom-line returns for shareholders. During Q3 2019, a 10% increase in revenue translated into a 31% increase in adjusted earnings per share.
That trend is expected to keep rolling in the fourth quarter, which should be released in late January. Management's forecasted adjusted earnings per share of $1.61 represent an 18% increase over the same period a year ago. In the longer term, Euronet is being driven by its ATM and currency conversion business, which makes up about half of all its revenue. The war on cash continues to make advances, but the fact is that cash remains the preferred method of transacting business around the globe by far. Thus, Euronet's ATM network updates and steady expansion could have some legs under it for some time.
Betting on a better year for a digital money movement leader
Speaking of the war on cash, PayPal has continued its relentless global expansion this year, putting up 14% top-line growth through three-quarters of 2019 (which includes loss of revenue from the sale of its consumer credit business to Synchrony Financial (SYF -0.47%) earlier in the year) and 34% growth in earnings per share.
As a result, it's been a pretty good run for PayPal shareholders, with the stock up 28% in 2019 alone -- though it too is down about 11% from all-time highs. However, the company recently made a few moves that could set it up for continued growth in the decade ahead. It just closed on its acquisition of Chinese digital payment company GoPay, making PayPal the first foreign entity allowed to process payments in the world's most populous country. It is also purchasing digital shopping and rewards outfit Honey Science for $4 billion in a bid to deepen its presence in e-commerce.
Granted, PayPal will be bumping into new competitors with its entrance into China -- namely, tech giants Alibaba (BABA -0.62%) and Tencent (TCEHY -0.33%) -- as it will in the e-retail world when it assumes control of Honey. But PayPal already has deep roots in the digital payments industry and should be able to make headway in both of its new strategic pushes. Along the way, the company should continue to benefit from a steadily rising account base and transactions processed on its platform, which will translate into higher revenue and earnings.
Meanwhile, ahead of Q4 results due out the end of January, the stock trades for 30.9 times one year forward earnings. With earnings growing in double digits, I therefore conclude PayPal is a timely buy for the next year and for the long term.