Two analysts upgraded MasterCard Inc. shares to "outperform" Tuesday, a day after the payments network said that it had not seen any drop-off in its processed volume growth rate in August.
Chris A. McWilton, the president of global accounts for MasterCard, said at an investor conference in New York Monday sponsored by Lehman Brothers that its gross dollar volume processed in August was "a bright data point" for the Purchase, N.Y., network.
"What we saw in the processed data, was the growth rates were consistent with what we saw for the second quarter" and "we continue to see growth in August," he said. "The rate of growth decline or degradation seems to have abated."
Mr. McWilton also provided reassurances about cross-border spending, saying that business travel compensated for some softer consumer spending.
"We didn't see any precipitous decline in cross-border activity in" August, he said. Europeans were much less likely than Americans to embrace the phenomenon of "stay-cation" (spending vacation time at home), he said. "We did not see any major degradation in European cross-border travel."
Despite the global nature of the credit crunch, Mr. McWilton predicted less of an impact on European credit and debit payments, where it is "staggering the amount of runway that's still left in these economies for electronic" payments, he said.
Several analysts reacted favorably to Mr. McWilton's comments. Howard Shapiro at Fox-Pitt Kelton Cochran Caronia Waller raised his rating from "in line" to "outperform" in a Tuesday note to investors, writing that Mr. McWilton's remarks "may allay concerns regarding growth."
Despite "a number of near-term issues that will slow the rate of growth in the near term," including lower gas prices, "slower U.S. consumer spending, and a higher dollar," Mr. Shapiro predicted "strong long-term growth" for MasterCard.
"There is still ample room to grow card penetration in the U.S.," and "overseas markets are only at the beginning of the transformation from paper to plastic-based spending," he wrote. "The rate of spend[ing] growth may slow in the near-term, but over the long-term growth in card penetration is highly correlated to growth in GDP."
Timothy W. Willi, a senior research analyst at Avondale Partners LLC, raised his rating on MasterCard from "market perform" to "outperform," writing in a note to investors that the upgrade was "principally valuation-driven." Given MasterCard's "recent decline in share price (down … [about] 30% from its high of $320 on May 30), we believe the current valuation generally reflects the near-term cyclical concerns that have kept us on the sidelines and to some degree overly discounts the long-term fundamental value of" MasterCard's "business model and market opportunity," he wrote.
However, Mr. Willi wrote, "we do not necessarily believe a catalyst will emerge in the near-term which will move shares materially higher in the next quarter or two." Still, the "downside risk is limited from this point."
Sanjay Sakhrani, an analyst at KBW Inc.'s Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., also issued a note to investors about Mr. McWilton's comments, maintaining his "outperform" rating on MasterCard and writing, "We thought management's overall comments were bullish and would use the current weakness in" MasterCard "shares as a buying opportunity." (By late afternoon shares of MasterCard were off almost 5% at $208.75 a share.)
On Tuesday, MasterCard said it had elected Jackson Tai to its board, returning it to "a full complement" of directors after the departure of Tan Teong Hean in June.
Mr. Tai is a former vice chairman and chief executive officer of DBS Group Holdings Ltd. who left the Singapore banking company in December; he also spent 25 years at JPMorgan & Co.