Visa Shares Soar in Boon to Bank Owners

NEW YORK Wed Mar 19, 2008 6:02pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Visa Inc (V.N) shares soared as much as 38 percent on Wednesday in their debut on expected growth in global credit card usage, handing a much-need payday to the beleaguered U.S. banks among Visa's stakeholders.

More than half of the proceeds of Visa's record $17.9 billion initial public offering will go to JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N), Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), National City Corp NCC.N, Citigroup Inc (C.N) and the other banks that are Visa shareholders.

AT&T's (T.N) $10.6 billion IPO in 2000 had been the U.S. record. Visa's IPO would place second worldwide after Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd's (601398.SS) $22 billion IPO in 2006, according to Reuters Data, if an overallotment option is exercised.

Visa is using about $10.2 billion of IPO proceeds to redeem stock held by shareholders, including some banks. [nN18476931]

Visa will use $3 billion of the IPO proceeds to cover litigation costs, according to regulatory filings, and the balance will be used for general corporate purposes.

Underwriters of Visa's deal, led by JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs & Co (GS.N), have an option to purchase an additional 40.6 million shares to cover overallotments, which could boost proceeds by about $1.8 billion.

Visa has said it expects to pay underwriters' fees of about $500 million.

Visa is the world's largest credit card network. It processed 32.7 billion transactions in fiscal 2007 compared with MasterCard Inc's 18.7 billion in processed transactions, according to their regulatory filings. Visa's fiscal year ended Sept. 30.

The stock, sold in an IPO on Tuesday at $44, opened up 35 percent and rose as high as $60.60 on the New York Stock Exchange. It closed up 28.41 percent, or $12.50, at $56.50, despite a slide in the broader stock market.

"This is where those (banks) who have worked with the firm along the way get to cash out, and receive a reward for all of their efforts," said James Owers, professor of finance at Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University.

"The extra wealth is particularly valuable at this time given the challenges to many of the major players," Owers said.

MORE PLASTIC AS ECONOMY WEAKENS

While banks that issue credit cards are bracing for write-downs on bad debt amid a weakening U.S. economy and tighter credit, payment processors like Visa are seen as well placed to benefit as more people use credit cards to pay for everyday expenses like a cup of coffee and a taxi ride.

"Visa enjoys one of the widest economic moats that a company can desire -- a network that connects thousands of financial institutions," Morningstar analyst Michael Kon wrote in an investor note. It would be very hard for a rival to duplicate that network, he said.

San Francisco-based Visa, which processes transactions for credit and debit cards, is one of the companies best positioned to benefit from growing consumer reliance on "paper-free payment methods," said Kon, who assigned the shares a fair value estimate of $74.

The Nilson Report, an industry newsletter, projects that by 2010, 70 percent of all payments will be made with credit or debit cards.

The Visa IPO is the first bright spot this year for the U.S. IPO sector, which has fallen into the doldrums as the credit market crisis spooked investors. The volume of IPOs so far in 2008 is about half what it was a year earlier, according to data tracker Dealogic.

"This will have some positive impact," said Professor Owers. "However, clearly Visa is rather unique with its established business model, its cash generation and its sheer visibility ... I don't think it will lead to a pick-up in (IPO) volume."

MASTERCARD PRECEDENT

Keen investor interest in Visa's offering comes as smaller rival MasterCard Inc (MA.N) has seen the value of its shares more than quintuple since its May 2006 IPO.

Based on Visa's opening share price, the company has a market value of about $48 billion, compared with MasterCard's $28 billion.

On the same basis, Visa shares are valued at 20 times annualized fourth-quarter earnings, compared with MasterCard's richer multiple of 26 times 2007 profit.

Both MasterCard and Visa are seen as good bets despite market turmoil. Neither is directly exposed to rising defaults and late payments because neither issues cards, unlike rivals such as American Express Co (AXP.N) and Discover Financial Services (DFS.N).

MasterCard shares closed down less than one percent, or $1.86, at $208.39 on Wednesday. They are down about 2 percent this year, while American Express has fallen about 18 percent.

(Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, John Wallace, Toni Reinhold)

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