How PayPal's $6.4 Billion Cash Hoard Provides a Leg Up

As PayPal (PYPL) fights for position in the increasingly competitive payments market, it helps that the company's wallet is bulging with $6.4 billion in cash and equivalent investments.

Historically, the eBay (EBAY) spin off has been willing to spend to achieve its goals and acquisitions are likely to remain part of its repertoire.

"Their main lines of business are powered by acquisitions," said SNL Financial analyst Kellsy Panno.

The $800 million acquisition of Braintree in late 2013 strengthened the mobile business, and brought the company the Venmo app that lets individuals split bills or pay each other via mobile phones.

The $982 million purchase of Xoom last year boosted remittance, allowing users to send money or pay bills on mobile devices.

"I do think they are going to continue that trajectory of growing through acquisitions," Panno said, "but I do think its going to slow down."

During PayPal's analyst day in May, CFO John Rainey acknowledged that M&A will be part of the mix. "Very simply our priority is growth. And we want to grow our customers and we want to grow that level of engagement. We can do that through organic investment, we can also do that through acquisitions," he said. PayPal's cash hoard allows it to buy other companies and still return cash to shareholders, he added.

As PayPal looks to become a financial hub for consumers and merchants, Panno suggested, a company like Movencorp could be attractive.

The New York cloud company partners with financial institutions to provide digital bank accounts with an app that helps customers track and manage their budgets. Backers include Route 66 Ventures and Anthemis Group. A representative said the company is not on the market.

"They take the budgeting capability that they have and really make it the centerpiece of the service you can set goals and set deadlines for paying off student debt or other expenses," Panno said, suggesting the business would meld with PayPal's goals. "They are highly int in helping consumers budget better," she said. "They currently don't have much of an offering in that space."

Jordan McKee of 451 Research suggested that mobile wallet developer like Boston-based LevelUp could appeal to PayPal.

"They make most of their revenue from marketing services," McKee said. "They help small merchants run rewards programs through the mobile wallet platform." The company also helps cafes and other small operations with maybe a dozen locations set up mobile wallets with their own brand.

Clients of the Boston company include chains such as Melt Shop, Dig Inn, Financier Patisserie, New York Burger Co. and Chopt Creative Salad, Google Ventures, Balderton Capital, Highland Capital Partners, DreamIT Ventures, Bantam Group, Continental Investors and Transmedia Capital have provided funding. A spokesman could not be reached Wednesday.

"It gets them further into the mobile space, but it also helps them move in store, which is a huge part of the PayPal strategy," McKee said. "They have struggled with that to date."

To further boost its presence inside physical stores, McKee said that PayPal could buy one of the fast-growing companies that make apps to process sales using tablets.

New York-based ShopKeep.com Inc. provides cloud sales-processing services to more than 22,000 retail shops and restaurants via iPads. The systems also track inventory and include data analytic capabilities. Last summer, the company raised $60 million from Activant Capital and other investors. A company representative could not be immediately reached on Wednesday.

"It helps them have a presence in-store," McKee said. "It also gives them an avenue to integrate their payment technology directly into the platform of ShopKeep or another point of sale company they acquire."

Montreal-based Lightspeed is larger than ShopKeep, and provides point-of-sale services to bigger retailers and restaurant groups. The company raised $61 million from Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Investissement Québec, Accel Partners and iNovia Capital last year, bringing its total funding to $126 million. Last Fall, Lightspeed bought Dutch e-commerce software group SEOshop. The company declined to comment on the possibility of a deal with PayPal.

"They have a lot of merchants that have 100 locations," McKee said.

If PayPal wants to launch a major attack on the in-store payments market, McKee said the company could consider a purchase of Discover Financial Services (DFS) , which has a nearly $24 billion market cap.

"It might be a little far fetched," he acknowledged, noting the expense of the deal.

The companies had a payments partnership years ago.

"If PayPal is really serious about becoming an in-store payment mechanism, and they really think that inevitably consumers are going to be using PayPal right along side Visa and MasterCard at the point of sale, they need to get fairly aggressive," he said.

PayPal and Discover declined to comment.

PayPal is a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio. Want to be alerted before Cramer buys or sells PYPL? Learn more now.