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Cramer vouches for behind-the-scenes digital payment play Global Payments

  • "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer found a strong way to play the rise of digital transactions with financial technology company Global Payments.
  • Global Payments is a merchant acquirer that enables retailers to accept electronic payments.
  • Cramer argued that Global Payments' acquisition of Heartland Payment Systems in 2015 was a turning point for the company.

CNBC's Jim Cramer has been following the bull market in payment processing and the rise of digital transactions for a while, pounding the table on plays like Visa and PayPal.

But there are more ways to play the global cash-to-credit shift besides credit card companies and payment processors, so Cramer decided to analyze Global Payments, an international merchant acquirer that enables retailers to accept electronic payments.

"The stock of Global Payments has rocketed up more than 48 percent year to date, so good that, yes, I'm kicking myself. I wish I had highlighted it earlier," the "Mad Money" host said. "These guys own the client relationships in the payments business and they're the ones who set pricing. They also have some e-commerce, cross-border and gambling-related solutions."

When somebody makes a purchase with a credit card, it sets off a complex chain of events. First, the retailer that sold the item sends transaction information to its merchant acquirer (Global Payments, for example), which sends it to the credit card network (say, Visa).

The credit card operator then gives the information to the customer's bank, which validates and pays for the transaction. In the end, the credit card network only makes less than one-fifth of 1 percent of each transaction. The merchant acquirer — in this case, Global Payments — makes a 2 to 3 percent cut.

Cramer said Global Payments' outlook drastically improved when it bought Heartland Payment Systems in 2015 for $3.8 billion.

The deal, which was completed in April 2016, gave Global Payments an array of new small- and medium-sized clients, helping boost its exposure to new industries like restaurants. It also added 1,400 salespeople across North America to Global Payments' roster.

All together, the Heartland acquisition is expected to produce $1 billion in added revenues and $60 million in cost savings in 2017 alone. Long term, it is expected to boost Global Payments' revenue growth by up to 2 percent, part of the reason why the stock has caught fire this year.

"Meanwhile, Global Payments is looking to expand internationally," Cramer said. "Right now, the rest of the world accounts for roughly a quarter of the company's sales. Asia, Europe, [the] Middle East, Africa, [and] Latin America is where the real growth is, so they're aggressively trying to take share overseas."

Typically, Cramer doesn't like to invest solely on earnings reports. But given Global Payments' bullish guidance, strategic partnership with Vista Equity Partners and e-commerce expansion, he made an exception to his rule regarding the company's third-quarter earnings report on Nov. 8.

"I don't like to game the earnings reports, but if Global Payments delivers another good quarter next week and the stock gets dinged anyway, I wouldn't be surprised if you're getting another buying opportunity," he said.

And shares of Global Payments are trading at less than 22 times next year's earnings estimates, slightly more expensive than its closest rival, Vantiv, but much cheaper than payment networks than Visa, which trades at 27 times next year's earnings.

"Bottom line: I love the payments space. That's why we own the cheapest one for my charitable trust — club members know First Data, which hasn't been acting well but is so inexpensive, is the one that has got the best value — but if you want a little-known company that's essential to the payments food chain, then you could do a whole lot worse than Global Payments," Cramer said. "Only concern? [The] stock's run a lot this year. Yeah, ideally, you could wait for a pullback. How about this: half before, half after."

WATCH: Cramer takes on a new winner in payments

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