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Intercontinental Exchange Inc: Earnings Preview

By Matthew DiLallo – Feb 2, 2016 at 12:02PM

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The global exchange operator is expected to report fourth-quarter results on Thursday, before the market opens.

Intercontinental Exchange (ICE -0.44%) has been on a real hot streak over the past year, delivering four straight quarters of double-digit earnings growth. Much of that growth has been driven by the company's ability to reduce its expenses as it works through the integration of recent acquisitions.

More integration work is on the horizon after the company closed two major transactions during the fourth quarter, and while these deals likely won't add much to the bottom line during the quarter, they will drive its initiatives going forward.

A quick look back
Last quarter, ICE reported strong double-digit growth on both the top and bottom lines. Revenue was up 10% to $816 million, while adjusted net income from continuing operations popped 21% to $323 million. Meanwhile, on a per-share basis, earnings growth was stronger, up 24%, due in part to share buybacks. In addition to higher revenue, the other big driver of earnings growth was a 9.4% reduction in consolidated operating expense from the year-ago quarter, which fell to $376 million.

What to expect this quarter
ICE expects its expenses to continue to fall, with the company guiding for its operating expenses to be in a range of $330 million to $335 million. This is a number investors should monitor, because if the company were to report disappointing results, it would likely be because its expenses came in a bit too hot. That said, if ICE can hit its mark, it would represent a steep drop from the fourth quarter of last year, when operating expenses totaled $400 million.

Outside of the expected drop in expenses, the other big thing to monitor this quarter is the impact from the aforementioned acquisitions that closed during the quarter. The company was anticipating that both might not close until the first quarter of 2016, but each closed in mid-December. The first deal to close was the acquisition of Trayport, which ICE bought for $650 million in stock. That deal is expected to have an immaterial impact on earnings per share in 2016, but it could have negatively affected fourth-quarter earnings because of the higher share count.

Even more meaningful was the $5.2 billion acquisition of Interactive Data. The cash-and-stock deal could likewise weigh a bit on earnings because of the large amount of shares being issued. Having said that, the company does expect the transaction to be 5% accretive to earnings per share in the first year. This transaction will be the one to watch going forward, with ICE expecting to be able to wring out $150 million in expense synergies within the next three years. Given that a big driver of the company's earnings growth over the past year has been its ability to push down expenses at the companies it has acquired, it needs to continue its success at integration in order to drive strong future earnings growth.

Investor takeaway
ICE was very active during the fourth quarter, having announced and subsequently closed two large transactions. Those transactions, however, are the key to driving future earnings growth, with this quarter really being focused on the company's ability to push down its expenses by integrating prior transactions. It needs to have been successful in that endeavor in order to continue its streak of delivering double-digit earnings growth. 

Matt DiLallo owns shares of Intercontinental Exchange. The Motley Fool recommends Intercontinental Exchange. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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