By Muvija M
(Reuters) - London-listed online trading platform Plus500 plans to venture into North America after a surge in profits for 2020 as company benefited from a boom in small-time traders making big bets on financial markets.
Plus500 is currently available in more than 50 countries, and if it establishes a base in the United States, it could become a rival to the likes of trading app Robinhood.
"We do plan to enter a new geography, obviously North America is one of them," Chief Executive David Zruia told Reuters. "The United States is one of the largest markets that we still aren't operating in," he said. Zruia did not disclose specifics on timing.
Plus500's rival IG has just announced plans to buy U.S. trading platform tastytrade for $1 billion after a strong year for these new retail investment brokerages.
Plus500 reported a 146% surge in profits for 2020 to $516 million, as it signed up nearly 300,000 new customers, triple the equivalent figure from a year earlier as traders kept at home by coronavirus lockdowns bet heavily.
Plus500 also said it plans to pay almost $30 million in special dividends and buy back $25 million in shares.
The results were also driven by the rise of easy access trading apps that require little more than a credit card and a mobile phone to access.
NOT A NORMAL YEAR
Plus500 shares, which fell in early trading on Wednesday, were 3% higher by 1453 GMT.
A trading frenzy around GameStop and a number of other U.S. stocks has shone a light on Plus500 and other players, such as IG and CMC.
Historically more focused on heavily-leveraged bets on currency prices, all have seen their main measures of performance boom since the pandemic helped to increase volatility on stock, commodity and currency markets.
"A number of market trends emerged and had an influence on the performance of the company during the year," said Plus500, which offers more than 2,500 financial instruments, including equities, indexes, commodities, options, forex and cryptocurrencies.
"The record FY20 results are due to more than just favourable market conditions," Liberum analysts wrote in a note.
Plus500 suggested that revenue in the current year may not match up to the $872.5 million it recorded for 2020, with a company-supplied consensus forecast pegging this year's number at $433.3 million.
"We don't know where this year could go. 2020 was an unprecedented year. We cannot treat it as a normal year in any aspect," Zruia said.
The company still expects the revenue to grow from "more normalised levels" it saw in 2019.
(GRAPHIC: Pandemic-led trading volumes help Plus500 and peers outshine UK mid-cap index - https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/buzz/azgpoenjqpd/Pasted%20image%201613575478888.png)
(Reporting by Muvija M and Priyanshi Mandhan in Bengaluru; Editing by Patrick Graham, Rashmi Aich and Barbara Lewis)