Visa (NYSE:V) reported solid earnings yesterday that squeezed past most estimates. Net income came in at $0.97 per share, up from $0.51 per share in the same period last year thanks in part to a healthy dose of cost cutting. The results were also juiced by a one-time gain related to asset sales. On an adjusted basis, net income was $0.67 per share.

Good news? Sure. But let's face reality: As credit-issuing banks like Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) grapple with surging defaults, and the credit card industry as a whole faces a global consumer in retreat, Visa and rival MasterCard (NYSE:MA) are looking at a serious challenge to their once-blossoming payment processing business.

For example, look at what's happened to worldwide payment volume -- a key figure in determining revenues -- over the past year:

Period Ending

Worldwide Payment Volume Growth

March 31, 2009*

(5.5%)

December 31, 2008

(0.9%)

September 30, 2008

12.4%

June 30, 2008

15.2%

March 31, 2008

19.1%

*Payment volume has a one-quarter lag. March 31 is the most up-to-date figure Visa provides.

That's ugly. When broken out, the debit side of transactions is still growing -- up 4% in the quarter -- but it isn't enough to stem the 10% decline in credit payment volume. Any way you spin it, the growth Visa enjoyed in years past -- and the growth many investors assume will continue in the future -- just isn't there anymore.

Visa's still a fantastic company. I can't say that enough. But I still struggle to see the catalyst that will get growth, ultimately reliant on consumer spending, back on track. The years ahead will not mimic years past: When the savings rate goes from flat to almost 7% in two years, consumers are screaming from the rooftops that they've left the overconsumption days behind. If payment volumes continue to decline, or even stabilize and stay flat, I find it difficult to rationally justify Visa trading for 24 times its 2009 earnings.

For related Foolishness:

Start investing today -- just $7 per trade with Scottrade. Or find the broker that's right for you.

Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn’t own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.