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Here’s the Secret Winner of the Apple-Google Mobile Payments War

3 | By Michael A. Robinson

In the 1989 classic flick Field of Dreams, Ray (played by Kevin Costner) hears a whisper from his cornfield. “If you build it, he will come,” the voice says.

After Ray builds his baseball field, he does indeed come – along with a baseball team and whole bunch of other folks.

It’s one of the best Hollywood stories ever, but it doesn’t always work that way in business.

Now that both Google Inc. (NasdaqGS: GOOG) and Apple Inc. (NasdaqGS: AAPL) have built a mobile-payments system, they’re waiting to see if anybody comes.

EMarketer researchers project U.S. mobile payments to increase from $1.6 billion last year to well over $110 billion in 2018. And Gartner projects global mobile payments to jump from $325 billion this year to more than $500 billion in 2016.

With so much money at stake, it’s no wonder Google and Apple are about to engage in a huge global battle over which company’s e-wallet platform consumers will choose to make purchases with their smartphones and tablets.

We could wait on the sidelines to see which e-wallet consumers “come” to.

But that’s not our style.

Instead, I have identified a “secret” play whose business will be supercharged no matter who wins the mobile-payments war.

Let me show you why…

Leaping Before Looking

A recent report by the market researchers at comScore shows that mobile commerce is growing twice as a fast as desktop digital shopping.

Mobile commerce is when consumers use their smartphone or tablet to make purchases, whether with a mobile-payments system, an e-commerce system such as PayPal or a traditional credit card. Both mobile commerce and desktop digital shopping make up the overall e-commerce ecosystem.

In this year’s first quarter, according to comScore, e-commerce spending rose 12 percent from the year-ago period to $56.1 billion. But shopping from smartphones and tablets – mobile commerce – hit $7.3 billion, with an annual growth of 23%, a compound rate that puts the field on pace to double three years from now.

Mobile-payments platforms rely on technology known as near-field communication (NFC). This allows the close-range exchange of data using a specialized form of wireless technology. This system can be used almost anywhere a physical exchange of money now takes place.

Besides retail checkout counters, I think mobile payments and NFC tech will take hold at train stations and ball games; in parking meters and garages; and in taxis.

However, Wallet has failed to live up to Google’s high expectations. In quarterly earnings statements, Google doesn’t even mention Wallet’s sales or use.

Last year, just two years after launching Wallet, Google announced that the executive in charge of the program had left the company to “pursue other opportunities.” That’s corporate speak for saying his services were no longer needed.

In launching Wallet, Google’s leaders made the classic blunder I call the Field of Dreams Mistake.”

They built it – and nobody came.

Google failed to nail down the support of a broad base of retailers, banks and credit-card companies before going live with Wallet.

Patience Pays Off

Apple announced Apple Pay, its mobile-payments system, at its Sept. 9 event, where it also introduced the Apple Watch and a platoon of other new products.

From what I can tell, the Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant has avoided Google’s mistakes by entering NFC-driven mobile payments with two main advantages.

First, it already has the credit-card numbers for some 600 million iTunes accounts. Throw in other App Store customers, and that’s 800 million potential Apple Payers right off the bat.

Second, Apple has worked hard to shore up bank and retailer acceptance.

It’s working with the three biggest credit-card companies out there: American Express Co. (NYSE: AXP), MasterCard Inc. (NYSE: MA) and Visa Inc. (NYSE: V). And Apple also has forged relationships with such key retailers as McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD), Macy’s Inc. (NYSE: M) and Walgreen Co. (NYSE: WAG).

And the company promises that 220,000 individual U.S. retail locations will be ready for Apple Pay in time for its launch on the iPhone 6 in October. (Pay will also be found on the Apple Watch when it debuts early next year.)

But that’s just a start.

Apple wants its rabidly loyal customers to build up so much demand for Pay that they pester other retailers to adopt the NFC technology and install electronic readers.

I know a lot of you are wary of all this for security reasons – or simply because you’re happy with your traditional credit card.

That’s completely understandable.

But after looking at everything around Apple Pay, I believe it will end up as the mobile-payments system people actually use.

In other words, this is a Field of Dreams for Apple.

Now then, I love Apple and still recommend the stock.

But if you want to make a lot of money from mobile payments, there is a purer, stronger play on NFC technology out there.

Mobile Money

NXP Semiconductor NV (NasdaqGS: NXPI) is the clear world leader when it comes to the semiconductor chips that make mobile payments and NFC possible.

NXP helped invent this technology and holds several key patents that stop other chip makers from entering the NFC field.

If you’ve followed my past advice, you may already be making money off mobile payments and NXP. Its shares are up 106.2% since I recommended them back in June 2013.

And here’s how we know NXP will benefit from Apple Pay and/or Google Wallet. While hard numbers are scarce, industry insiders have assured us and product breakdowns have proven that the company’s products are found in both e-wallet systems.

The Netherlands-based firm not only manufactures the chips that turn your smartphone into a digital wallet but also supplies the devices retailers need in their electronic mobile-payment readers.

Near-field chips are part of NXP’s “identification and security” business segment.

Identification and security account for 28% of NXP’s overall sales, which totaled $4.8 billion last year. And the unit has a compound annual growth rate of 30%, meaning it is doubling in size roughly every 2.4 years.

As such, NFC technology is the main factor behind NXP’s growth.

But NXP is not strictly an NFC company – not even close.

Within identification, NXP has several other hooks, not the least of which are “chip and PIN” smart credit cards. This technology, which is already booming in the United Kingdom and Western Europe, replaces credit cards’ magnetic ID strips with computer chips and requires customers to enter a personal-identification number (PIN).

These are far more secure than standard credit cards. And retailers and banks hope chip-and-PIN tech will halt the recent spate of credit-card data thefts, as seen over the past few months at Target Corp. (NYSE: TGT) and The Home Depot Inc. (NYSE: HD).

Though slow to be adopted here at home, MasterCard and Visa are pushing domestic retailers to rapidly install chip-and-PIN systems. According to Aite Group data, chip-and-PIN systems will be in 87% of U.S. checkout systems by 2017.

NXP is also the world leader in this technology.

While electronic payments may be the Dutch company’s key product segment, it’s a well-diversified company.

NXP also makes radio-frequency ID tags used in shipping and logistics as well as secure e-document systems for government agencies. And it makes audio amplifiers, processors for car stereos and chips for cell towers, consumer electronics and industrial applications.

NXP was created in 2006 as a spinoff from the European conglomerate Koninklijke Philips NV (NYSE: PHG) and went public in August 2010. With a market cap of $17.72 billion, NXP shares are selling for about $70.

While we’ve made a fortune on it so far, fortunately for those of you who have yet to cash in, NXP still sells at a discount to the market. It trades at just 13.2 times forward earnings, which is roughly 21% below the 16.7 forward price-earnings (P/E) ratio for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

And the stock has a good deal of upside.

The P/E to growth (PEG) ratio – the P/E ratio as a percentage of the projected rate of earnings growth – is 0.66. With the PEG ratio, a lower number is indicative of a cheaper stock – and anything less than 1.0 is potentially a bargain.

Over the past three years, NXP has maintained a 35% earnings growth rate. That means profits are doubling every two years.

The low PEG ratio, coupled with the low P/E (and also low relative to its peers) and a history of hot profit growth, points to a stock that has a hefty upside. I see it going to at least $80 within the year, and maybe up to $85.

Thus, NXP is exactly the kind of stock I have in mind when I say the road to wealth is paved with tech.

And in this case, NXP could help you spend all that money with greater ease – just use your NFC-enabled smartphone…

Are you already invested in NXP? Are you planning on investing now? I’d love to hear from you. Let me know in the comments below.

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3 Responses to Here’s the Secret Winner of the Apple-Google Mobile Payments War

  1. RMATTEN says:

    Any comment on buying leap options on NXPI? There are Jan 2016 $80, $85 and $90 strikes and the Jan 2017 leaps just started but they are considerably more expensive. Any comment on using these long term options would be appreciated. Thanks.

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