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Will This Card Company Charge Ahead of its Competition in 2014?

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In recent months, shares of payments industry leader Visa (NYSE: V  ) have lagged behind those of rival MasterCard (NYSE: MA  ) . However, both companies recently reported earnings and Visa impressed while MasterCard disappointed. As a result, shares of the former rallied and shares of the latter dropped.

At current levels, Visa remains a viable alternative to its industry rival that also pays a nicer dividend. Accordingly, investors seeking value in growth stocks should consider Visa for the long-term.

Solid earnings beat
Visa reported impressive earnings last week, especially in comparison to the reports from rivals American Express (NYSE: AXP  ) and MasterCard.

Visa managed to beat the average analyst estimates on both the top and bottom lines. The company's revenue in its first quarter of fiscal 2014 was $3.16 billion, which was above the consensus estimate of $3.13 billion. The company's first quarter earnings per share came in at $2.20, which was also above the consensus estimate of $2.16. 

The strong results were driven primarily by strong payments volume growth for Visa in the quarter. On a constant-dollar basis, volume was up 11% to $1.2 trillion. 

These numbers represent solid year-over-year growth for Visa as well. Revenue grew 11% over the prior year's quarter and EPS grew an even more impressive 14%. In the company's release, Chief Executive Officer Charlie Scarf summed it up, "Visa delivered a strong fiscal first quarter, posting solid revenue, net income and earnings growth. We continue to focus on embracing new technology and new partners which will make our network the one of choice." 

As strong as Visa's results look when measured against analyst estimates, the company's performance in the most recent quarter looks even better when compared to results from rivals American Express and MasterCard.

American Express managed to beat the average analyst estimate for revenue when it reported $8.55 billion, which was above the consensus of $8.54 billion. However, the company's reported EPS of $1.25 slightly missed the consensus estimate of $1.26. 

MasterCard fared even worse in its most recent quarter, as the company failed to meet both the consensus revenue and EPS estimates. MasterCard reported revenue of $2.13 billion and EPS of $0.57, which was below analysts' expectations of $2.14 billion in revenue and $0.60 in earnings per share. 

Growth is comparable but not quite industry-leading yet
Visa's projected growth is significantly more robust than that of American Express and relatively comparable to that of MasterCard for the most part. The following table breaks down all three companies' projected growth in 2014: 

  Projected 2014 Revenue Growth Projected 2014 EPS Growth
Visa 9.8% 17%
American Express 5.6% 11%
MasterCard 12% 17.6%

MasterCard and Visa are the clear leaders in the space. Although Visa is projected to lag behind its smaller rival in terms of revenue growth, the two companies' EPS growth is expected to be very similar going forward.

For a while, Visa was significantly cheaper than MasterCard, however the latter's recent drop in share price has basically made the two equal in terms of forward-looking valuation. Visa's forward P/E is 20.30 while MasterCard's is 20.26. American Express remains the cheapest by far with a forward P/E of 14.10, which is to be expected considering the company's inferior growth.

Also, Visa pays a solid dividend of $1.60, equal to a yield of 0.70%. MasterCard pays a dividend of $0.44, equal to a yield of 0.60%. Meanwhile, American Express leads competitors once again with a dividend of $0.92, equal to a yield of 1.10%.

A payment juggernaut for the future
Although Visa is currently the largest company in the space by far, you wouldn't know it by looking at the company's growth. Visa is still growing at a level that is relatively comparable to its smaller, aggressive peer MasterCard and above the level of the more mature American Express.

I expect all three companies to do well in the future as the world continues to shift away from cash and toward various forms of electronic payment. However, Visa and MasterCard are the two best growers in the segment by far. The impressive results from Visa's latest earnings report indicate that the company may be set to lead the industry once again.

2014's best stock?
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Philip Saglimbeni

Philip is an avid investor and writer. He contributes to The Motley Fool and Seeking Alpha. You can follow Philip on Twitter @philsags.

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