Market cap: $30 billion
2008 revenue: $5 billion
P/E ratio: 18*
Dividend yield: 0.3%
For a consumer-dependent company like MasterCard, 2009 was a year of surprisingly solid results.
Amid the worst economy since the Depression, MasterCard not only eked out a 1% revenue rise in the first three quarters (because consumers used debit cards more) but also boosted operating profits 24% (by raising fees and taking a machete to marketing costs).
That's what happened when consumers weren't spending. Now there are signs that wallets may be ready to open again.
One key measure -- the gross value of MasterCard's transactions -- has stopped falling (when calculated in local currencies). That means MasterCard's revenue is poised to climb, analysts say.
Like its rival Visa, MasterCard acts as a middleman, collecting pennies from every transaction on its network. Unlike the banks that issue credit cards, it doesn't hold risky consumer loans (and it shouldn't be affected by a new law limiting the penalty fees that banks can impose).
With an estimated 725 million people using its services, MasterCard is benefiting from the long-term switch to plastic. The number of sales using a MasterCard has actually increased during the recession.
With the company's success, it's little surprise that shares have run up from $119 (when investors panicked, in the belief that consumers would never spend again) to $230.
But at 18 times next year's estimates the stock is actually well below its historical forward P/E of 27. Even without a worldwide recovery, argues J.P. Morgan analyst Tien-tsin Huang, the stock price can rise as more people use its cards. If total dollar volume increases in 2010 -- and most analysts believe it will -- MasterCard will earn more.
"You're starting to see signs of a recovery," says Huang, "but if things stay bad, they should be able to grow through that." Earnings per share are expected to rise 18% next year as sales increase by 9%. NEXT: Amedisys