Square Stock Faces Short-Term Pain and Long-Term Gain

SQ remains ahead of valuations, but the long-term outlook continues to improve

After a brief spike higher, Square (NYSE:SQ) has fallen below the levels it saw before the Feb. 27 earnings announcement. Investors have sold Square stock, as concerns about valuation and slowing profit growth weigh on the equity.

However, the “slowing” profit growth remains massive. Furthermore, Square’s moves into cash registers, payroll processing and banking have formed a compelling ecosystem. This influence calls into question the future of many long-standing financial businesses. Considering SQ’s transformational power in the finance business, I would recommend using the recent decline to look for a buy point in Square stock.

As I’ve pointed out in previous articles, Square stock is the financial tech stock of the 2010s. Much like Intuit (NASDAQ:INTU) in the 1990s and PayPal (NASDAQ:PYPL) in the early 2000s, Square carved out a financial niche that the large players could not push aside. Now, Square has built an ecosystem that has helped it to grow beyond its place as a niche player.

Beware the Square Ecosystem

Put simply, Square has grown with the small businesses it continues to support. Admittedly, when venturing beyond phone-based platforms, both the Square Cash Register and the Cash App seem like natural extensions. As of the end of 2018, the Cash App had already grown to 15 million accounts, up from just seven million in 2017.

However, now Square has moved into many other areas such as scheduling, payroll systems and even small business loans. This system has become so powerful that customers who left had Square seeking cheaper payment processing solutions, returned to the fold.

These moves should also make one wonder about the future of the more traditional financial stocks. For one, Square’s small-business lending threatens the type of loans made by community banks, many of whom already struggle to provide high-tech banking services.

However, the power of the Square ecosystem threatens more than just community banks. Square Cash Register pressures the company formerly known as National Cash Register, NCR (NYSE:NCR). Square Payroll threatens the business of ADP (NASDAQ:ADP). Moreover, between the Cash App and Square’s loan business, what need will consumers have for a Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) or a Visa (NYSE:V)?

Buy Square Stock… If It Pulls Back

All of these companies have time to adapt. For that reason, I will not predict their demise. However, given the power of this ecosystem, it is little wonder why Square stock has commanded such high multiples. Despite my bias toward value, even I like SQ stock long term. Still, over the past year, I have been a Square stock bear on valuation concerns. These worries remain and I would not yet buy SQ.

However, even a value-based case has begun to form on SQ stock. The forward price-to-earnings (PE) ratio has fallen to about 68. Also, profit growth has slowed down, but only gradually. Wall Street forecasts a 57.4% increase for this year. For next year, that will only fall to 50%. Analysts also think that SQ will maintain a 49.8% average annual growth rate over the next five years. If the forward PE drops below 60 (a point it surpassed as recently as December), I would recommend buying this stock.

Final Thoughts on Square Stock

The bad news in Square’s numbers may create an opportunity to buy a transformational business at a comparatively low valuation. I have long held a negative view of SQ stock due to its elevated multiple. Despite a steep decline and a partial recovery, SQ still trades at a high PE ratio.

However, profit growth will likely come in at about 50% per year for the foreseeable future. More importantly, the growth of its ecosystem looks positioned to transform the finance business. This could also force many of its peers to either adapt or possibly close their doors.

The Square financial ecosystem will transform the financial industry more than any one company has in decades. This factor alone makes Square stock a buy on any significant pullback.

As of this writing, Will Healy did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned stocks. You can follow Will on Twitter at @HealyWriting.

 


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