Everyone gets excited when their favorite store has a blowout sale with huge, 20% discounts throughout the store. Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become a national spectacle as everyone clamors to secure the biggest discount on the hottest electronics, toys, jewelry, and more.
And yet, when the stock market throws investors a blowout sale with huge 20% discounts, everyone panics, and fear grips even the most stoic of investors. These sales, also called bear markets, should not be a time for you to fear. They should be a time for you to go shopping for high-quality stocks at deep discounts.
If we have a bear market sale this year, the one deal I'm watching the closest is MasterCard (MA -0.86%), a company with great growth, better profitability, and an increasingly cheap stock price.
A business model and financial results to beat any bear market
Even though you may have a MasterCard-branded credit or debit card in your wallet, that doesn't mean MasterCard is a bank. MasterCard is a payment processing company, which means its business model is more akin to a toll collector than a banker.
MasterCard owns and operates a digital network that links merchants with banks, facilitating and managing digital transactions without actually participating in it. Whenever a consumer swipes her MasterCard-branded debit or credit card at a store or online, that transaction will be facilitated on MasterCard's network. For the ride on the network, MasterCard collects a fee, just like a toll collector collecting money as traffic moves down the highway.
Over the past 10 years, this business has been exceptionally lucrative. The company's revenues have grown consistently and translated to profits at very high margins. Annual revenues have increased 41% over the past five years, and 184% over the past 10 years. For the company's third quarter, its most recent available numbers, MasterCard reported a profit margin in excess of 38% on revenues north of $2.5 billion.
MasterCard is scheduled to report its fourth-quarter and full-year results on January 29.
The combination of MasterCard's consistent growth and operating efficiency allows it to produce spectacular returns on equity, well above 40% for each of the past two years.
Usually, MasterCard is expensive. But not in a bear market.
What happens when a company has excellent growth, ridiculous profit margins, and returns on equity pushing toward 50%? Its stock price trades at a premium, that's what.
MasterCard is no exception. Over the past year, the company has traded as high as 30.75 times its trailing-12-month earnings. At the time of this writing, the stock is trading just above $86, which works out to a 26.5 times the trailing-12-month earnings.
If the stock market continues to decline as it has so far in 2016, and eventually enters official bear market territory, MasterCard stock will likely only get cheaper and cheaper.
Despite uncertainty, MasterCard looks poised to succeed, bear market or not
Using the most current available data, MasterCard looks well-positioned to continue producing exceptional financial results regardless of what happens in the market.
First, the company has a diversified user base all over the world. 31% of the gross dollar volumes on the MasterCard network came from the U.S. in the third quarter, with the balance coming from various global markets all over the world. If the Chinese economy sputters, consumers in the U.S., South America, Europe, and elsewhere can buffer the impact on MasterCard's bottom line. If the trouble comes from U.S. customers, the inverse is also true.
Second, MasterCard is the second largest player in the electronic payment processing player. Globally, electronic payments have been growing quite rapidly as e-commerce, mobile technology, and card adoption matures in the developed world and spreads into the emerging markets. MasterCard's gross dollar volumes increased 8% in the U.S. for the third quarter, year over year. Its other global regions saw gross dollar volumes increase 16% for the same period. In this case, a rising tide can lift all boats, and MasterCard happens to be one of the highest-quality boats in the water.
These trends should continue whether the stock market declines or rises. People all over the world will continue to use electronic payments to shop online, swipe their card at the store, and so on. Regardless of the stock market's direction, MasterCard's fundamentals will remain strong.
High-quality stocks are cheap when the market enters a correction
Bear markets can be scary. Oftentimes they come with an economic recession, higher unemployment, and general financial pain for many people.
The silver lining is that bear markets bring down the prices of high-quality stocks so savvy investors can buy them on the cheap. To me, MasterCard is one of the very best companies in one of the best possible industries for 2016 and beyond. If the market does enter bear market territory this year, add MasterCard to your watchlist. This could be the market's biggest sale of the year.