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MasterCard, Inc.'s (MA) CEO Ajaypal Singh Banga on Q1 2014 Earnings - Call Transcript

Stocks in this article: MA

<Q - Kevin McVeigh - Macquarie Capital (USA), Inc.>: Great. Thank you. Just given what seemed like a little bit a higher level of rebates incentives in Q1 and obviously Q4, should we expect that to tail off over the balance of the year or just pretty consistent with historical trends as well? Should we see a bit of a step down given that the investments in Q1 and Q4 or still at relatively historical levels?

<A - Martina Hund-Mejean - MasterCard, Inc.>: So, Kevin, let me just set this a little bit correctly. What happened in Q4 was basically a catch up from the prior quarters. When you look at our Q2 and Q3, in 2013 rebates and incentives the numbers were relatively low. And then you had a catch up in Q4 for that. What you're now seeing in Q1 of 2014 is very similar to what you have seen in prior years. So you can actually say that 2013 was an anomaly from a quarter-over-quarter performance, not from a whole year, and now in 2014 you're going to see something very similar to 2012 - in 2014 to 2012.

<Q - Kevin McVeigh - Macquarie Capital (USA), Inc.>: Thank you.

Operator: And your next question comes from Sanjay Sakhrani from KBW. Go right ahead, sir.

<Q - Sanjay Sakhrani - Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, Inc.>: Thank you. I guess the accelerating GDV and process transaction growth in the United States is pretty encouraging given the backdrop. Could you just talk about what's driving that? Is it your customer engagement or is it consumer spending more? And maybe you can just talk about kind of a broader read across to the economy. Thank you.

<A - Ajay Banga - MasterCard, Inc.>: Hi, Sanjay. So, yes, as I said, SpendingPulse showed a 2 point-something - 2.8% or 2.9% growth in the first quarter ex auto. Actually that was down from the growth rate of the fourth quarter over the same quarter of the prior year. All these numbers, by the way, are not sequential quarter. They are quarter-over-quarter, the same quarter prior year. And that was down - by the way, the fourth quarter was down over the third quarter, so in a sense it feels like the growth rate of consumer spending, ex auto in the U.S., felt like it was slowing over these three quarters.

But interestingly, when you unpeel the first quarter, I actually see two things that make me feel that we shouldn't jump to that conclusion too quickly. And the first one has to do with the regional spending trends in the United States and the consumer spending trends. Aside from the Northeast which actually - our SpendingPulse data declined for the total consumer spending ex auto in the Northeast, actually the growth rate was minus. So a little decline in the first quarter of 2014 over the first quarter of 2013. And similarly in the Midwest where there was very bad weather, we had a small decline. Now, a larger proportion of the U.S. consumer spending comes from the Northeast than the Midwest.

On the other hand, the Western part of the country, from Seattle down to California, grew very, very handsomely, almost in the double digits. And the Southwest of the country, Texas through Florida, did something similar. So when you put the whole of the United States together, the weather truly, truly did seem to have some kind of an impact because it just matches too closely to this pattern.

The second thing that's of interest, and I don't yet know how to calculate the impact of it, is Easter. You know, Easter is coming at a different time, and therefore April's numbers by and large look a little better for most of us and for the consumer spending early data that I'm seeing. I haven't yet seen our new SpendingPulse data. It will come out within a few days of the 1st of May, which is now. So in a few days, it will emerge. That's kind of what I know so far. So overall I'd say that the U.S., even though the numbers at a [ph] bald (54:16) level looked like the growth rate was reducing, I wouldn't jump to that conclusion too quickly.

Operator: And our next question comes from James Friedman from Susquehanna. Go right ahead, sir.

<Q - James Friedman - Susquehanna Financial Group LLLP>: Hi. Ajay, I wanted to follow up on the Svenska Handelsbanken win. Congratulations, I know that's a very prestigious issuer. I think you had, in your comments, suggested it was your largest conversion in Europe since Swedbank. So I don't have to spend $10,000 for the Nielsen report, could you give us some context on it Svenska? How big are they relative to Swedbank? That would be helpful. Thank you.

<A - Ajay Banga - MasterCard, Inc.>: I think you should spend the 10 grand. You've got to pay for other people too. I'll send you my copy. How's that? I'll tell you this: I don't want to talk about a particular institution - it's not what I would do - in terms of their size. But I'll give you this idea. In the Nordics, there are three or four very large institutions, and you're counting - the two names you mentioned are among those three or four, right on the top. The Handelsbanken is actually the second largest retail bank in Sweden. Its presence outside of Sweden and the rest of the Nordics is lower than its presence in Sweden, so it may not be - in fact, I don't think it is the second largest for the whole of the Nordics, but it is a very - one of the large three or four big ones there.

But it's pretty significant for us because we've been trying to build our share in the Nordics now for a little while partly because that's one of those markets where cash is truly not king; where electronic payments are king. And so much so that I think the estimate of cash in terms of percentage of transactions in the Nordics is between 5% and 10% or even lower in some cases, which makes it quite the opposite of the world, which is 85% cash and check. And so we've been doing well there. We were not in a great position four or five years ago. We've actually grown ourselves nicely, and that's the flavor I was trying to provide you in terms of becoming among the largest players in the Baltics and now the largest debit card in Sweden. And we've grown our share in credit and commercial and installment cards and co-brand cards, and I feel generally good about where we are there.

<Q - James Friedman - Susquehanna Financial Group LLLP>: Thank you.

Operator: And our next question comes from Bryan Keane from Deutsche Bank. Go right ahead, sir.

<Q - Bryan Keane - Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc.>: Yeah, hi, guys. Good morning. Just more details have come out on the European regulation front. So I just want to get an update from you guys on any details on the potential challenges to MasterCard. I know you guys mentioned that as something you're highlighting. So what are kind of the things that you guys are looking at that could be a challenge?

<A - Ajay Banga - MasterCard, Inc.>: Well, there's multiple things in that legislation the way it is currently worded, although it has changed also from the original wording and in some ways the current wording is less onerous, and in others it is more onerous. The one that came through the last round added commercial card interchange to be controlled and dictated just as consumer interchange in the credit space was going to be controlled and dictated. I clearly don't like that because - remember, we are inside this legislation, the aspect of other four-party schemes as well as schemes that look like four-party but may not be called four-party are also included.

But at the end of the day, I think what really happened here, and this is information gleaned more from hearsay than reality, is that my sense is that the recent vote was a confused vote. The legislators actually did not believe that commercial cards should be dictated in the same way as consumer credit cards, but in a mix-up in the voting pattern, it got voted the wrong way. I don't know whether that will get corrected over this coming process, but that's kind of what we're discussing openly and transparently with the legislative community and the regulatory community in Europe. I would like that to not be in the rules clearly.

But beyond that, there's a bunch of other rules that have started. Remember the one about separation of management between scheme and processing, and there was this whole thing of what's constituted in separation and what's not. We're getting a little more clarity. It feels like the way it looks today that management would have to be separated, you would have to have some legal entities separated, but the holding company could be the same.

Now, that's complicated but not impossible. It's a pain in the neck, but it's not impossible. And so those are the kind of things we're working our way through. Some of them have more implications for other players in the ecosystem, for merchants, for banks, for us. It kind of varies each time. And we're trying to take a balanced view of it. I know for sure that when regulation comes in, it causes some amount of uncertainty and movement.

But, on the whole, what we're trying to do here is work our way through the details of it, talk to the regulators and the community there about the whole aspect of the regulation. I think they have tried to bring in more elements around the level playing field that we had asked for. I don't know that all the elements are there yet in reference to the commercial card, for example, but they are in the others. And so kind of a mixed bag. And I'm not going to go much further on this call, but I'm going to work my way through it over the next, you know, six months. Remember, we're talking about first half of 2014 when this will probably get bedded down, and we've got as you can imagine a number of very smart people working on it in some detail.

<A - Barbara Gasper - MasterCard, Inc.>: First half of 2015.

<A - Ajay Banga - MasterCard, Inc.>: 2015, sorry, not 2014. Error. 2014 is what we're in. 2015. As you can see, I'm losing track of time. That's my advancing age.

<A - Barbara Gasper - MasterCard, Inc.>: Looking ahead.

<Q - Bryan Keane - Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc.>: Okay. Thanks for the color.

<A - Barbara Gasper - MasterCard, Inc.>: Operator, next question?

Operator: Our next question comes from Bob Napoli from William Blair. Go right ahead.

<Q - Bob Napoli - William Blair & Co. LLC>: Thank you. Ajay, I wouldn't send that Nielsen report because I don't think Nielsen likes that. It's very sharp wording. I was wondering if you can give with the Russia noise, if you can give an update on China and if you've seen any movement there for opening up local processing or in country and if you feel you're in a position if you think other countries are going to follow what Russia is doing when you see the effects that sanctions can have on a payments industry and on the banking industry. So if you just talk a little bit about Russia, if you're seeing any movement there? And then at what point do you just - I mean, on Russia I think one of the terms that I saw on one of the - I'm not sure what exactly what got passed, but they wanted Visa and MasterCard to put up $4 billion, $3.8 billion, two days' processing, or something like that. At what point do you just throw in the towel on Russia?

<A - Ajay Banga - MasterCard, Inc.>: So you got two different kinds of parts in there. The one about the level of collateral and as I mentioned that's one of the issues, I actually don't think the number is what you just said. I think it's a lower number than that. But having said that, it's not a number I'm interested in. So to be clear, either which way I'm not a happy boy on that one. But, you know, I don't know. We'll see. We're going to have the discussions with the Central Bank. We are very transparently in conversation with them. It's kind of interesting on the ground in Russia, banks and clients and merchants are still doing a lot of new things with us. And it's almost like that's continuing. We've actually launched new things in the last three weeks with them.

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