Is PayPal a good stock to buy?

PayPal's revenue growth has accelerated in double digits, but is the success short lived?

PayPal logo
(Image credit: Getty Images)

One of the key trends of the past few decades has been the rise of e-commerce. While it has receded from the highs seen during the pandemic, when the closure of most shops meant that nearly 40% of retail sales in the UK were made online, it still accounts for 16% of all sales in the US and more than a quarter in Britain. This has been good news for companies such as Amazon, and bad news for the high street. However, rather than risking money on a particular retailer, it may make sense for traders to buy one of the most important gatekeepers in the world of e-commerce

The company in question is, of course, PayPal (Nasdaq: PYPL). PayPal is one of the most popular electronic payments platforms, used for everything from retail transactions to services such as Airbnb. It has 426 million active accounts across 200 markets. While this platform still provides the core of PayPal’s revenue, growth has slowed drastically since Covid-19. This is partly due to the general downturn in household spending. However, another factor, and one that seems to have rattled many investors, is intensifying competition from rival services provided by Google and Apple. These services have threatened to entice customers away from PayPal and forced it into defensive price cuts, hurting its margins.

PayPal bounces back – a steep road to recovery?

The good news is that PayPal seems to have found a way out of its problems by broadening its business. The large number of different payment options on the market may be bad news for its main branded payments business (although it is still growing), but it has created an opportunity for its Braintree subsidiary, which serves as a simple single gateway to connect firms with these various payment providers, without having to deal with them individually. At the same time, PayPal is trying to appeal to younger consumers with Venmo, a peer-to-peer transaction service. It is making tweaks to its main product as well, including a new feature aimed at making it quicker and easier to buy products as a guest (without setting up an account with the retailer). 

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These changes seem to be helping PayPal bounce back. Revenue growth is increasing by double-digits again, with the volume of transactions processed rising by 14%. Revenue in 2023 was almost double 2018’s levels, with earnings increasing by a similar amount during the same period. After a few years in which they started to dip, operating margins have rebounded to record levels and the return on capital employed, a key gauge of profitability, has similarly increased to 15%. Despite this continued success, the stock is priced modestly at 14.4 times 2025 earnings. 

Note too that while the shares are still more than 75% down from their peaks in 2021, they are now trading above both their 50- and 200-day moving averages. I suggest you go long at the current price of $67 at £50 per $1. Put the stop loss at $48, giving you a total downside of £950.

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Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri