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Wednesday, September 16, 2020, 18:07
US churches going digital are driving New Zealand's best stock
By Bloomberg
Wednesday, September 16, 2020, 18:07 By Bloomberg

A church announces online Sunday services near Birmingham, Alabama, US on April 28, 2020. ( MARANIE STAAB / BLOOMBERG)

A digital payment platform for religious services is New Zealand’s top stock this year, propelled by US churches that moved online during the coronavirus.

The company “is a beneficiary of COVID with its platform enabling churches to stream services more often, translating to higher engagement with the congregation and an uplift in donation volumes,” RBC Capital Markets wrote

Pushpay Holdings Ltd has surged 97 percent to become the best performer on the S&P/NZX 50 Gross Index in 2020. The Auckland-founded company facilitates cashless donations and hosts live-streamed sermons, a draw for churches dealing with restrictions on in-person gatherings.

The company “is a beneficiary of COVID with its platform enabling churches to stream services more often, translating to higher engagement with the congregation and an uplift in donation volumes,” RBC Capital Markets wrote in a Sept 6 note.

Pushpay serves more than 10,500 institutions with a focus on US churches and raises revenue via monthly subscription fees and per-transaction costs. The company says that if it can meet its target of more than 50 percent of churches with at least 200 average weekly attendees, its annual revenue would reach more than US$1 billion, compared with about US$130 million in FY20.

American individuals, bequests, foundations and corporations gave an estimated US$128.17 billion to religious institutions last year, according to a report from the Giving USA Foundation.

The US faith sector is ramping up its use of digital payments as most churches remain shuttered, UBS Group AG wrote in a Sept 7 note. The trend could become more permanent amid the ongoing shift away from cash, although there are concerns about “online church fatigue,” the broker added.

ALSO READ: China hopes US can overcome COVID-19 at early date

Company insiders have sold Pushpay shares amid the surge. Chief Executive Officer Bruce Gordon offloaded 1.4 million last month. Pushpay’s largest investor, the Huljich family, sold 25 percent of its stake shortly after the stock peaked in July. The stock tumbled 8.4 percent when the sale was announced.

Still, its near doubling year to date highlights how companies focused on delivering services via technology are benefiting as consumers are restrained by government rules and social distancing measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus. Information technology is the top performing sector on the MSCI World Index in 2020.

READ MORE: New Zealand's Ardern hits back at Trump over virus 'surge'

Pushpay is also listed in Sydney, where its shares are up 89 percent this year. The hottest Australian stock of 2020 is installment payment platform operator Afterpay Ltd, which has surged 167 percent.

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