Every year, consumers across the globe increasingly embrace credit card and related digital transactions over the use of cash. This trend is expected to continue in developed markets and is really taking off in emerging ones, including Asia. There are a number of ways for investors to play this growth. They may be less familiar with Global Payments (NYSE:GPN) as an investment candidate, but the company is worth getting to know.

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Company Overview
Global Payments considers itself one of the world's leading electronic payment firms. For the last two years, it has handled 5 billion transactions annually for a dollar volume of over $500 million per year. The United States is its largest market, with almost 60% of its annual revenue. Europe is the next largest, followed by Canada and the Asian Pacific region. It makes its money by charging a nominal fee for each and every transaction on its network. The largest amount will generally go to the card issuer, such as Capital One Financial (NYSE:COF).

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Recent Results and Outlook
Global Payments recently reported its fourth quarter and full year results. For the year, revenues jumped 18% to $2.2 billion, and cash earnings (which management uses to reflect its recurring profitability) advanced 15% to $3.53 per diluted share. This figure excluded a pre-tax charge of $84.4 million, or 68 cents per diluted share, to complete an investigation into a data intrusion on the company's digital payment network. The costs were to investigate what happened, "remediation expenses," as well as efforts to ensure that the company remains on the approved network list of the industry giants, including Visa (NYSE:V), MasterCard (NYSE:MA) and Discover Financial (NYSE:DFS).

To beef up its Asian exposure, the company announced it would be acquiring the remaining 44% of a joint venture it has had with global banking giant HSBC (NYSE:HBC). The estimated purchase price is $242 million and is expected to add 7 cents to earnings for fiscal 2013.

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For the coming year, Global Payments projects respectable revenue growth in the 7 to 9% range and total revenues right around $2.4 billion. However, it only expects modest 2 to 4% profit growth to as high as $3.66 per diluted share. Slowing trends in Europe are likely to blame, as is potentially slower growth in the U.S.

The Bottom Line
Global Payment's investment appeal lies in the growing worldwide market for electronic payments. According to the company, the volume market share of credit, debit and prepaid card transactions will reach $22 trillion by 2015, or three times the volume of 2005. Much of this growth is coming from Asia, which has seen its market share rise from 18% to an estimated 44% by the end of 2015. Global Payment's purchase of the HSBC joint venture should help it boost its exposure to Asia, with India and China a particular focus. There was also a sense of relief that the data breach did not turn out worse than expected and won't dent Global Payment's overall operations.

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Combined with a reasonable forward earnings multiple of 12, an investment in Global Payments represents a very compelling way to gain industry exposure. Visa and MasterCard are also growing briskly, and carry much higher brand recognition that allows them to earn lucrative royalty payments for their global transactions, but they trade at forward P/E ratios closer to 20. As such, they have much higher downside risk, should growth trends unexpectedly slow from their current levels.

At the time of writing, Ryan C. Fuhrmann was long shares of Discover and HSBC but did not own shares in any other company mentioned in this article.