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Mastercard Q4 Earnings Recap: What Investors Need to Know

By Matthew Frankel, CFP® - Feb 9, 2021 at 7:27AM

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The payment processing giant lost international transaction revenue, but most of the numbers were surprisingly good.

We recently saw Mastercard's (MA -0.51%) fourth-quarter earnings, and the results were a mixed bag. As you might expect, cross-border payments -- especially those related to international travel -- were much lower than before the COVID-19 pandemic. On the other hand, consumer spending activity looks surprisingly strong. In this Fool Live video clip, recorded on Jan. 28, Fool.com contributor Matt Frankel, CFP, discusses the key takeaways investors need to know. 

Matt Frankel: So, just kind of looking at this, the broad-strokes net revenue down by 7% year over year. That's to be expected given a pandemic. EPS was down 16% year over year, but digging in a little bit deeper gets really interesting.

First of all, if you look at this one. Gross dollar volume. This is the amount of money flowing through Mastercard's network. Worldwide, it was actually up by 1% year over year. In the U.S., it was up by 4% year over year. Meaning that people are spending more on their Mastercard credit cards and debit cards than they were at this point last year.

Where did the decline of revenue come from? Even in international markets, it was pretty much flat year over year, which is impressive considering what's going on. There are actually 6% more Mastercard cards out there than they were a year ago. There are 2.75 billion Mastercards in existence, and that's the No. 2 operator. [laughs] That's pretty impressive.

These numbers look really good; you would think they would have had a better quarter. But now when you get into the details, here's where it is. Look at the second bar graph right in the middle here. Cross-border volume fees down 40% year over year. A lot of credit cards have things like foreign transaction fees and currency exchange fees and things like that. Right now, no one's traveling overseas, for the most part. The fact that that was only down 40% seems impressive when you think of how few people are traveling internationally right now. That's really where their biggest revenue decline came from.

They made up for it a little bit; they're spending less on advertising and marketing expenses, you can see right there. Just to look through some of these before I get more into the cross-border stuff. Transaction volume. Even in the first few weeks of January, they gave information all the way through Jan. 21, switched transactions, which just pretty much means that the amount of money flowing through their system was up 3% year over year, 2% last week.

In the U.S., the first week of January, which is normally a slow time for things like retail, were up 11% year over year. In the week ending the 14th, up 10%. That's pretty impressive. [laughs] I mean, this is some pretty impressive payment growth. But then you get down and you see the cross-border transaction volume is just awful. Here's really where they break it down. This is the last slide I wanted to show before we can just talk about the results a little bit.

The gray line is the total cross-border payment, down 40% year over year, which you can see that's hovering right around the 40% line. But when you see card-not-present transactions, they are actually holding up pretty well. Card-not-present non-travel is like if you buy something online that's in another country and there's a currency exchange fee. So that's actually up year over year pretty nicely.

When you look at the orange line, which is card-present transactions that mean someone actually has to be at a foreign country using their credit card. That was down almost 90% back in April, now it's down a little over 60% year over year. I'm actually impressed it's only down 60% year over year, being how few people are traveling..

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