Square emerges as a coronavirus hedge while other payment stocks get crushed

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Jack Dorsey, chief executive officer of Square Inc., second right, tours the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015. 

Yana Paskova | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Square has been an outlier in this week’s payment stock wreckage.

Shares of Mastercard, Visa, American Express and Paypal were battered as companies warned of a slowdown in spending and travel due to the quickly-spreading coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Square surged as much as 10% a day after reporting better-than expected fourth-quarter results and upbeat guidance. Jack Dorsey’s payment company generates roughly 90% of its revenue inside of the U.S., and is significantly less exposed to travel and leisure than some of its competitors.

Square CFO Amrita Ahuja said coronavirus hasn’t had a material impact on results so far in the first quarter, and the company doesn’t envision an impact in near-term.

“We’re actually under-indexed to categories like tourism and travel,” Ahuja told CNBC in an interview at Square’s headquarters in San Francisco. “This is an area that we will continue to monitor — international today is a relatively small part of our business.”

Fears around coronavirus and its impact on global growth and corporate profits have roiled U.S. stocks this week. The total number of confirmed cases has increased with South Korea confirming more than 1,700 cases and 400 cases confirmed in Italy.

Mastercard shares were on pace for the worst week since 2008 after the company issued a warning that the fast-spreading virus could weigh on revenue this year. American Express and Visa have not changed guidance, but were both heading for their worst week in roughly a decade.

“Cross-border travel, and to a lesser extent cross-border e-commerce growth, is being impacted by the Coronavirus,” the company said in a statement Monday. The company forecast first-quarter revenue growth about two to three percentage points lower than previous guidance.

PayPal made a similar announcement on Thursday, lowering its outlook for first-quarter revenue growth by one percentage point. While PayPal’s business trends “remain strong,” international cross-border e-commerce activity “has been negatively impacted by COVID-19,” the company said in a statement.

Macquarie Capital analyst Dan Dolev said Square is so far, proving immune to coronavirus. Its current revenue model “has little reliance on cross-border travel, which has been the epicenter of the coronavirus financial mayhem,” Dolev said in a note to clients following earnings.

Square also reported break-out growth in its Venmo competitor, Cash App. The company said its peer-to-peer payments and stock-trading app now has 24 million users — up 60% from a year ago. The app generated $361 million in revenue, half of which came from bitcoin trading.

Square operates in the U.K., Canada, Australia and Japan. International revenue grew at 52% year over year fourth quarter. The company said international growth is compounding at roughly twice the average rate.

Growth abroad is still a key part of Square’s future, Ahuja said. While the virus might not factor in immediately, she did say there were still unknowns when it comes to the severity of the outbreak.

“Of course, we’ll continue to monitor any impact to the overall consumer spend numbers that we see,” Ahuja said.

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