The Euro is on the verge of collapse.
Thursday, the Euro closed below $1.30 – the lowest level all year. And the yield on the 10-year Italian bonds closed above 7%. The last eurozone countries whose bonds closed at 7% were Greece, Ireland and Portugal. The market considers these countries to be credit risks. If you have bad credit, you’d pay 30% or more on your credit card. But a sovereign nation has the ability to tax its citizens. So the chance for a total loss is remote – which is why it’ll pay a comparatively lower rate.
But even at a low 7%, Italy can’t pay the interest on its bonds. At this rate, as more of the debt rolls over at a higher interest rate, it will eventually have to default on its debts. The European Central Bank will make some half-hearted effort to bail out Italy and save the Euro. But in the end, the Federal Reserve will have to step in to save Europe. And it will.
The Federal Reserve will print money to buy up Eurozone bonds. This monetizing of debt will eventually result in massive inflation. Regular readers know I’ve been talking about inflation for a while.
I’ve been moving my assets in to gold coins, silver, and globally-diversified undervalued large cap stocks like Walmart (WMT), Microsoft (MSFT), Cisco (CSCO), Johnson and Johnson (JNJ) and Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A).
So who else is going to benefit from looming inflation? Credit card companies like Visa (V) and Mastercard (MA). These companies provide transaction-processing services. Unlike the banks that issue these credit cards, they bear no risk if the credit card holders default. They’re more like a toll booth on a bridge that collects a fee each time someone drives through. But unlike the toll booths, which charge a fixed dollar amount, these companies charge a percentage of the transaction amount.
As the amount of money in circulation increases – and the prices of things goes up – they’ll collect more money for doing the same thing. Unlike other service companies, they don’t have to even explicitly increase their fees. Since it’s a percentage, it will automatically adjust upwards. And if the Euro actually does collapse, travelers to Europe are more likely to use their credit cards for purchases. This is more convenient than exchanging currency at every border.
I looked at four stocks in this sector: Visa, Mastercard, Discover Financial Services (DFS) and American Express (AXP). Visa and Mastercard have significantly greater global appeal and penetration. And between these two, I liked Mastercard more.
Over the past five years, its revenue and free cash flow have been steadily increasing. It’s currently selling for a P/E of 20 and a Price/FCF of 18.27.
As Warren Buffett demonstrated with his purchase of Lubrizol (LZ) this year, paying 20 times free cash flow is a fair price to pay for a domainant company. But unlike Lubrizol, Mastercard isn’t the market leader. It’s second-place to Visa. But Visa’s cashflows have been somewhat erratic, and its stock is a bit too pricey.
So Mastercard is a little expensive for my taste. I prefer to buy stocks at a discount. It’s on my watchlist – I’ll pick it up if it trades below 15 times FCF.