CME Group: A leading financial exchange offering investors growth and income

With an ever-increasing volume of trading activity across financial derivative instruments, global markets are a lucrative industry. Founded in 1841 as Chicago Mercantile Exchange, CME Group (NASDAQ: CME) is the world’s leading derivatives marketplace. It boasts a diverse assortment of exchanges in Chicago, New York and London trading assets such as market indices, forex, commodities and interest rates via derivatives, options and futures.

The company offers a broad suite of platforms for clients to trade different instruments. CME Group’s operations also extend to trade-related services, including CME Clearing, a leading central counterparty clearing provider. Rounding this out, the financial exchange also runs an optimisation and reconciliation service, as well as a trade processing service. As such, CME Group offers an integrated whole-of-life trading service catering to different clients.

CME Group first went public in December 2002, five years before CME merged with the Chicago Board of Trade. At the time of its listing on the NYSE, CME was priced at US$35 per share. A 5:1 stock split followed in July 2012, but that hasn’t impeded the stock’s rise. The stock recently topped US$200 per share in the last few months, but here’s why the shares may still offer a lot more upside.

Strong growth led by various products points to a bright outlook

In its most recent third-quarter report, CME Group delivered significant growth on key metrics as it has so often done. In total, clearing and transaction fees climbed 38.3% to US$1 billion, while market data revenue increased 17.3% to reach US$130 million. Adjusted earnings per share of US$1.78 were nearly 10% higher than expected, buoyed by market volatility.

During Q3 average daily volume (ADV) leapt 30% year-on-year to 20.2 million contracts per day. A highlight of this period was the company’s August numbers, where ADV was 24.3 million, its second-highest result ever. During August equity index volumes rose 109% (YoY), led by the growing popularity of the E-Mini S&P500 futures contract. Elsewhere, interest rate volume surged 59%, options volume jumped 49%, and metals volume soared 41%.

International trading volume remains a key driver of growth, with ADV from outside the US climbing 40% (YoY) to 5.2 million contracts transacted per day. There are three major geographies prompting this rise, with growth in Asia up 61%, Europe up 34%, and greater Latin America higher by 87%.

These metrics position the company well for its upcoming release of Bitcoin options trading in January 2020. In 2017 CME Group launched Bitcoin futures trading. Since then, it has recorded 3,500 individual accounts and an average volume of 6,500 contracts traded each day (47% ex-USA). Given the popularity of cryptocurrency, this new offering could be a catalyst for earnings and the stock as CME eyes a growing market where clients look to hedge their risk amid extreme price volatility.

Defensive business model supporting dividends

Whereas many growth stocks are typically cyclical and susceptible to market downturns, CME Group is one stock that offers defensive counter-cyclical qualities. Industry revenue is mostly generated from trading activity, which often increases in periods of significant market volatility. With 90% market share of global futures trading, including the largest trading volume and notional values traded among any provider, CME’s business model leverages market volatility to drive revenue.

It appears this fact is not lost on the market either, with the company’s share price performing well in volatile periods relative to other growth stocks. If we look at last year’s broad-based sell-off in Q4, the S&P 500 dropped around 14%. In contrast, CME shares improved by approximately 12%. While the stock’s momentum in early 2019 was subdued, it has since regained momentum. An increase in market volatility could act as a short-term catalyst, notwithstanding long-term organic growth. Nonetheless, CME Group’s defensive qualities provide value in a well-diversified portfolio.

This is in part due to the company’s variable dividend policy, where it declares a variable dividend to shareholders at the end of each year based on excess cash available and operational performance. This is effectively a ‘special dividend’, in addition to quarterly dividends made every year since listing. In FY18 total dividends were US$4.55, while the twelve-month trailing dividend yield is 2.3%. Given the positive outlook for the company, this trend is likely to continue and offers long-term investors sustainable yield and compounding income.

Conclusion: Growth and income through scale, diversity and resilience

CME Group provides exposure to a steadily growing thematic relating to risk management and an increase in trading activity for derivatives, futures and options. Not only does this increase in trading activity bring in higher clearing and transaction fees, but it increases the demand for its market data, thereby capturing additional sales revenue.

The company has seen tremendous growth in its contract volumes traded each day across multiple segments. This is due to the popularity of its key products like the E-Mini S&P500 futures contract, crude oil futures (NYMEX), and gold futures (COMEX).

With growth from international clients proving a strong tailwind, and the upcoming release of Bitcoin options trading in January 2020, the company has exposure to growth catalysts that have the potential to drive the share price higher.

At the same time, when volatility appears in the market, revenue becomes more prolific for CME Group as trading activity typically increases. This defensive quality offers upside as far as earnings, in turn facilitating an accommodative and sustainable dividend policy for income investors.

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