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Can Intercontinental Exchange Inc. Keep Its Earnings Hot Streak Alive This Quarter?

By Matthew DiLallo - May 2, 2016 at 5:52PM

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The exchange and clearinghouse operator is expected to report results on Wednesday morning.

Image source: Flickr user Kevin Hutchinson.  

Intercontinental Exchange (ICE -1.96%) continued its torrid growth pace last quarter, notching its fifth consecutive quarter of double digit earnings growth. That streak will be on the line this week, when the company reports its first-quarter results.

First, let's review
Last quarter, ICE didn't have any problem extending its earnings streak after delivering robust 26% year-over-year growth in earnings, pushing that number up to $3.29 per share. Driving that strong growth was data service revenue, which jumped 35% thanks to the recent acquisition of Interactive Data. That deal will more than likely be enough to push the company's earnings streak to six.

How is the acquisition integration going?
For ICE to keep up earnings growth, it needs to hit its integration targets for not just the Interactive Data deal but also for other prior acquisitions, including Trayport and the NYSE. That means keeping its adjusted operating expenses in check, which the company expects to be in the range of $490 million to $500 million for the quarter. If those expenses run above target, it could cause the company to miss its mark.

Likewise, the company is guiding for full-year adjusted operating costs of between $2 billion and $2.03 billion, which includes $50 million in NYSE expense synergies and $25 million in Interactive Data synergies. If the company misses the mark on costs during the first quarter or no longer expects to hit its full-year integration targets, it could suggest that its integration efforts aren't going as well as expected, which is a potential problem for a growth-by-acquisition company such as ICE. 

What's the outlook for acquisitions?
Speaking of ICE's growth-by-acquisition strategy, it signed another deal during the first quarter agreeing to acquire Standard & Poor's Securities Evaluations from S&P Global (SPGI -2.28%). The deal is expected to enable ICE to offer customers new data and valuation services, thereby providing a further boost to its data services segment.

Aside from the transaction with S&P Global, ICE is also rumored to be contemplating a bid for the London Stock Exchange Group, which is currently merging with Deutsche Boerse. That deal, however, has been pushed back because of Britain's June vote on exiting the European Union. Analysts see this delay as a possible window of opportunity for ICE to swoop in and make a competing bid, with it reportedly lining up bankers to help finance a potential deal. Such a deal would create the world's biggest trading-to-clearing exchange group, growing not only its size and scale but also its earnings power.

While it's unlikely that ICE will announce a competing bid for the LSE when it reports this week, investors should still keep an eye out for the company's outlook on acquisitions.

Investor takeaway
ICE has been using its growth-by-acquisition strategy to drive strong double-digit earnings growth over the past few quarters. It's a streak the company will probably continue again this quarter, after recently closing the acquisition for Interactive Data, unless, of course, it has struggled to integrate that entity. The potential for integration hiccups aside, the company has already moved on to its next deal and might have one more major transaction up its sleeve if market whispers are to be believed.

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Stocks Mentioned

Intercontinental Exchange, Inc. Stock Quote
Intercontinental Exchange, Inc.
$96.75 (-1.96%) $-1.93
S&P Global Inc. Stock Quote
S&P Global Inc.
$332.70 (-2.28%) $-7.77

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