Uncertainty about the global economy's ability to keep growing has hurt a wide variety of companies throughout all market sectors, but the financial services industry has had more exposure than many. MasterCard (MA 0.26%) has been a big victim of fears of a global slowdown, and its challenges in facing the impact of a strong dollar on its international revenue have also weighed on its growth.
Coming into Friday's fourth-quarter financial report, MasterCard investors were thinking that the combination of headwinds would keep the company from posting earnings growth, but as it turned out, MasterCard did far better than most had expected and pointed toward a promising 2016. Let's take a closer look at MasterCard and what its latest results say about its future.
MasterCard posts double-digit earnings growth
MasterCard's fourth-quarter results showed how effective the company has been at making the most of its opportunities when they arise. Revenue of $2.52 billion was up 4.4% from the year-ago quarter, but it was less than the nearly 6% growth rate that most investors were expecting to see. Nevertheless, MasterCard did a masterful job of getting more of its revenue down to the bottom line. Net income jumped 11% to $890 million, and that produced earnings of $0.79 per share, a full dime above the consensus forecast.
The most impressive thing about MasterCard's results is that they once again came despite a substantial hit from the strong dollar. Revenue growth would have been five percentage points higher on a constant currency basis, and earnings per share suffered an 8 percentage point hit from weaker foreign currencies. Notably, though, the impact of the dollar appears to be subsiding at least minimally as its rise comes at a slower pace.
Meanwhile, MasterCard's fundamental results were strong. Just about all of the company's major metrics rose 12%, including cross-border volumes, gross dollar volume, processed transactions, and worldwide purchase volume. Gross dollar volume jumped in local-currency terms to $1.2 trillion, and total processed transactions climbed to 12.3 billion. Worldwide purchase volume rose to $883 billion, and the number of MasterCard cards rose 100 million to 2.3 billion.
MasterCard's geographical segments once again showed strong local-currency-based growth internationally, with gross dollar volumes rising 14% to 15% and purchase volumes climbing 13% to 16% across the globe. Currencies hit Latin America the hardest, costing it nearly 30 percentage points of growth, and Canada and Europe also suffered declines in gross dollar volume in dollar terms. The U.S. saw slower growth of 8% to 9%, continuing a long trend favoring the international arena.
A substantial portion of MasterCard's bottom-line success came from keeping expenses in check. Total operating costs rose just 1% to $1.4 billion, and much of the money went toward strategic initiatives that should generate more business in the future.
CEO Ajay Banga was happy about how well MasterCard did in 2015. "Despite a challenging economy, we were able to deliver solid results," Banga said, and he pointed to fundamental strength likely being able to overcome economic uncertainty worldwide.
What's next for MasterCard?
In particular, Banga expects 2016 to focus on electronic payments. As he sees it, "We continue to be laser-focused on our strategy to lead payment innovation in an increasingly digital world with solutions such as MasterPass, while growing the use of electronic payments through our products, partnerships, and increased acceptance at the point of sale."
MasterCard does need to keep an eye on competition. American Express (AXP 0.30%) will be working hard to fight back after a terrible 2015, and one area in which it hopes to shine is in coming up with partnerships with retailers and other companies looking to issue store-affiliated cards. MasterCard has done its best in that arena, but a renewed effort from American Express could put further pressure on MasterCard to keep up with its peers in the industry. At the same time, American Express has long had a solid reputation internationally, and so as American Express seeks to find new paths for growth, encroaching into MasterCard's area of strength internationally could have ramifications there as well.
MasterCard investors didn't react strongly to the news, and shares rose only slightly in pre-market trading following the announcement. For now, though, MasterCard seems to be doing everything right and enters 2016 with strong forward momentum for the future.