The coronavirus crisis has left few stones unturned as it wreaks havoc on the global economy. While many digital businesses are in better shape than ever as many people are confined to their homes, fintech has not exactly held up. Though digital payments are more important than ever, the decrease in economic activity will likely more than offset higher adoption of digital tools in lieu of cash payments.
Nevertheless, some fintech stocks have started to rally as signs are emerging that COVID-19 is infecting fewer people. The biggest players, like Visa (NYSE:V), Mastercard (NYSE:MA), and PayPal (NASDAQ:PYPL) have bounced off their lows in March by double digits and remain on my list of top buys. In April, though, I'm turning my focus to Alibaba (NYSE:BABA), StoneCo (NASDAQ:STNE), and Fair Isaac (NYSE:FICO), all of which still have a lot going for them over the long term.
E-commerce hand-in-hand with digital banking
First up is Alibaba, another stock that has held up well during the market meltdown. Shares are down 12% from all-time highs as of this writing and continue to rebound as the Chinese economy gets up and running again after dealing with the contagion early. To be sure, Alibaba's business will report that it suffered disruption during the first quarter of 2020, with CEO Daniel Zhang hinting at that during the fourth quarter 2019 report. Specifically, retail, travel, and cloud computing will stumble, offset by some yet unknown amount by grocery and delivery services.
Once the world has worked through the crisis, though, e-commerce is likely to emerge more important than ever before. Since it's the leader in the industry in China, I like Alibaba stock for the long haul. But this is more than just a digital marketplace. Alibaba is also heavily invested in the tech that powers it all with China's leading cloud computing infrastructure and a sizable investment in the world's largest fintech company, Ant Financial.
There have been critics of Alibaba's stake in its longtime fintech affiliate, which includes mobile and online payment platform Alipay. Prior to taking a one-third equity stake in Ant, Alibaba was receiving royalty payments from its fintech partner good for 37.5% of pre-tax profits. In many investors' minds, replacing that deal with equity means more risk. But bringing in the digital banking services that are already responsible for a large portion of Alibaba's e-commerce makes sense. It helps unify the platform, and Ant continues to expand its reach around the world -- like with its investment of European fintech Klarna last month.
Paired with the rest of Alibaba's digital empire, the fintech segment is massive and gets investors access to the largest pool of e-commerce consumers on the planet. The growth trajectory for the immediate future is uncertain, but during the fourth quarter of calendar year 2019, Alibaba posted revenue and adjusted earnings per share of 38% and 49%, respectively. With shares trading at just 21.4 times trailing earnings and 18.4 times free cash flow (what's left after cash operating and capital expenses), this is a growth-at-a-value stock worth serious consideration.
A war on all fronts
China isn't the only emerging economy that is warring on cash. Brazil's StoneCo -- which also happens to be a Warren Buffett stock -- is leading the charge on multiple fronts. After a pretty impressive run, the stock is back below where it was trading when it debuted as a public company in late 2018. As a high-growth fintech akin to Square (NYSE:SQ), this Brazilian tech stock needs some attention right now, as it's down 50% from all-time highs as of this writing.
StoneCo focuses on points of sale for merchants, both of the online varietal and physical payment hardware. It was Brazil's first non-bank provider of such services and has enjoyed massive growth in just a short period of time. In 2019 alone, revenue increased 63% to $571 million (using a Brazilian real to U.S. dollar exchange rate of 0.22 from March 3, 2020). Though it's in high-growth mode, the company is also profitable. Adjusted net income grew 163% to $178 million -- although actual free cash flow was much lower at $91.4 million as investments promoting growth continue to be made.
In spite of torrid growth, there were good reasons for the sharp sell-off in the stock. At its high point (market cap of $12.5 billion), shares were going for a whopping 44 times trailing 12-month sales. Even after the pullback, the stock continues to trade for 24 times 2019 revenue, a premium to be sure even though this is a fast-growing firm. However, the outlook is now cloudy given the economic uncertainty that's lurking. Plus, StoneCo has just begun making a push into general banking services, a move that could backfire if businesses in Brazil are adversely affected by coronavirus and credit starts to deteriorate.
However, I still like StoneCo over the long haul. Disruptive companies can often attract lots of new customers in times of distress as incumbents struggle with legacy systems. Nimble and looking to make waves, this fintech still has abundant space to expand in South America's largest economy. As I've advised before, though, keep positions small and purchase small blocks of shares at a time while building into a larger position in this volatile high-growth company (my stake was less than one-quarter of a percent of my portfolio as of this writing).
Financial data galore
Fair Isaac, best known by most for providing FICO credit scores, has been hands down one of the best fintech stocks since the financial crisis of 2008-9. But if Fair Isaac had become too rich for your taste in recent years, now is a good time to revisit the finance and data analytics company.
Besides helping businesses and consumers get access to credit and lenders get valuable information to extend credit, FICO has an entire suite of services geared toward helping organizations make informed and data-based decisions. As coronavirus has proven, optimizing efficiency isn't the end-all be-all of solutions. Unforeseen events occur, and having some slack built into the system to be ready for disruptive "black swan" events makes sense. And FICO is likely to lose some business as organizations look to tighten up their budgets and general economic activity decreases.
Nevertheless, in a world awash in data, AI-based software to help with decision-making will continue to play an important role going forward. After all, beefing up balance sheets with cash and putting contingency plans in place could be a whole lot easier if better basic decision-making regarding finances and credit occurred. Though shares of FICO remain over 30% down from all-time highs as of this writing, I think the company will land on its feet.
To be sure, at 37 times 12-month free cash flow, this is still a premium-priced stock. Investors should keep a close eye on quarterly earnings, due out likely at the end of April. Nevertheless, some pain is already priced in, and FICO was coming into the crisis with momentum. Revenue and earnings per share increased 14% and 38%, respectively, in Q4 2019 (Fair Isaac's fiscal 2020 first quarter). That makes this outfit one of the top fintech stocks I'm looking to buy in April.