FRANKFURT (Reuters) - German payments firm Wirecard is considering buying back shares following its partnership with Japan’s Softbank Group which it said on Wednesday had already created leads for potential cooperation in digital payments.
Wirecard will pay out to shareholders “a substantial portion” of the proceeds of a 900 million euro ($1 billion) convertible bond issue that Softbank will buy as part of the alliance struck last month, CEO Markus Braun said.
“We have already started very quickly to make this partnership happen,” Braun told analysts on a conference call after Wirecard reported a 41 percent increase in first-quarter core profits, helping to lift its shares price.
Braun made the bullish statements as he seeks to shake off allegations of fraud and false accounting made in a series of Financial Times articles that shook investors and wiped up to $10 billion off Wirecard’s market value in January and February.
The quarterly results come two weeks after Wirecard published full-year 2018 accounts, delayed by an investigation by its own law firm that concluded staff in Singapore may have committed crimes but absolved head office in Munich.
Wirecard won a ‘clean’ opinion from auditor EY for its annual results, but said it would tighten up on compliance after finding shortcomings in the handling of software licences issued to its partners.
Braun said Wirecard was in talks with six to eight companies in Softbank’s portfolio - in Asia, Europe and the United States - to cooperate on digital payments.
He declined to elaborate but said Wirecard would share an analysis of the alliance’s potential in invites for its June 18 annual general meeting that go out this Friday. Shareholders are being asked to vote on the Softbank deal.
Softbank, the world’s biggest venture fund which runs the $100 billion Vision Fund, counts ride-hailing players Uber, Grab and Didi, along with shared office space provider WeWork, among its properties.
Uber, on the brink of a $90 billion U.S. market listing has, however, just taken a $500 million investment from rival payments company Paypal.
Wirecard lifted its outlook for earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) to between 760 million euros and 810 million euros ($851-$907 million) this year. The mid-point implies that the acceleration in the early months of this year will persist.
The company, which operates both as an acquirer, processing payments on behalf of 293,000 merchants, and as an issuer of real and ‘virtual’ payment cards, sees plenty of momentum ahead.
Its shares rose 4 percent in Frankfurt trading following the results with some analysts also hailing the potential from the Softbank alliance.
Wirecard has long been a target of ‘short’ sellers who seek to expose accounting irregularities and profit from ensuing share price declines - triggering probes by German prosecutors who suspect illegal market manipulation.
The stock is strongly supported by equity analysts, however, with 19 out of 25 who cover the firm rating it a ‘strong buy’ or ‘buy’.
“The partnership with Softbank is a game changer,” said Robin Brass at private bank Hauck & Aufhaeuser, estimating it could boost Wirecard’s EBITDA by 100 million euros.
($1 = 0.8928 euros)
Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Michelle Martin and Emelia Sithole-Matarise