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Credit card king Visa (NYSE: V ) reported fourth-quarter earnings yesterday that met analyst expectations, more or less. There weren't any big surprises … revenue grew, adjusted net income continued to chug along, and transaction volume's doing just fine. Apparently people are still spending money, although at the rate things have been progressing lately, I'm not quite sure how.
Adjusted net income came in at $448 million, or $0.58 per share, up from the adjusted $196 million earned in the same period last year. Revenue jumped 17%, to 1.7 billion. Visa wasn't a public company last year, so per-share comparisons aren't applicable.
Net income was adjusted due to one-time payments to Discover Financial (NYSE: DFS ) and American Express (NYSE: AXP ) after settling on a suit where Visa and MasterCard (NYSE: MA ) were accused of bullying banks into issuing only their cards, which apparently doesn’t sit well with competitors.
Payment volume during the quarter grew 15% to $699 billion, while total volume (which includes cash volume) grew 19% to $1.1 trillion … good, but perhaps near the bottom end of where investors set their lofty expectations.
And how about those expectations? Management now expects revenue growth to come in between 11% and 15% through 2010, with adjusted earnings still growing 20% or greater.
That's where things could get dicey for Visa. By most accounts, shares are expecting nothing less than those stellar expectations being met. In other words, much of the future success is already baked into the share price.
With those expectations in mind, what investors should be asking is, "Great, but what if …" And from an investing standpoint, that's what doesn't make Visa the most attractive investment out there. You can choose whatever that "what if" category might contain: a massive drop off in consumer spending (good chance), a drastic pullback by banks issuing credit to consumers (already happening), and a general avoidance of debt-related purchases (already happening), to name a few.
That's not to say Visa's a waste of your time … it's a fantastic company with one of the strongest franchises in the world. The real question is, at what price?
Only a handful of months into life as a public company, our 120,000-plus CAPS universe gives Visa a four-star rating (out of five). During these panicky market days, that's quite a seal of approval. Care to share your thoughts? Click here to join CAPS and tell everyone what you think.
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