Visa, AmEx, Discover, MasterCard -- you can almost play cards with all of the varieties of credit cards out there today. But of these, only one reports earnings tomorrow. Let's run a credit check on MasterCard (NYSE:MA) now, and see what investors think of it relative to the other members of the big Plastic Triumvirate: AmEx (NYSE:AXP), which reported a few days ago, and Visa (NYSE:V), whose results are due out today.

We'll have time a-plenty to dissect MasterCard's own news later this week. But before we begin obsessing over its short-term progress, let's use this weekend to review what investors think about it as a long-term investment. Our tool in this endeavor: Motley Fool CAPS, where we poll more than 110,000 investors for their views on well over 5,300 companies, MasterCard included. Here's what Fools have to say about the company and its long-term prospects.

Up or down?
More than 2,700 investors have submitted ratings on MasterCard. Their verdict: "Eh. We could take it with us, or leave home without it."

More than nine out of every 10 Fools polled agree that MasterCard is a winner. Then again, most Fools tend to take a "if you can't say anything nice, don't" approach to rating stocks on CAPS. Because an 8% "unfavorable" sentiment may be more significant than it at first appears, MasterCard scores just three stars out of five possible on CAPS -- a score that puts MasterCard squarely in the middle of the pack of credit card companies:

Credit Card Group

CAPS Rating





American Express


Bank of America (NYSE:BAC)


JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM)


Discover Financial (NYSE:DFS)


Capital One (NYSE:COF)


Wall Street vs. Main Street
Wall Street has no such reservations. Of the 13 professional analysts taking affirmative buy/sell opinions on MasterCard (according to Capital IQ), the voting goes 13-0 in favor of MasterCard. That's not surprising when you consider that the stock has beaten the S&P 500 by a good 85 points over the past year.

Bull pitch
MasterCard bulls take a succinct approach to expressing their love for the company. Perhaps because it's so well known, they see little need to write a book explaining what it is, what it does, and why it's great. CAPS All-Star UCLAgrdstnt, for example, calls MasterCard a "Flat out great company that has tremendous resilience to economic slowdown" and leaves it at that. Meanwhile, oldmanandthesea suggests that "MA is conservative on guidance so I expect a beat" on tomorrow's earnings.

Bear pitch
Bears have a tougher task -- tearing down one of the icons of American capitalism. But they give it their best shot. Consider this impassioned (and dare I say, poetic?) plea from Afropuffashion:

Fellow fools; this is madness. ... The small caps have written the message on the walls. People are using their credit because they don't have any cash; some of those credit lines are based upon mortgage lines of credit. Eventually, they won't have any cards; government is going to demand [MA] to repay overcharges. ... It will be worse then the real estate crises. Don't go to the light, it is the glow fueled from the pit below. ... Dante knows it well. When you smell the brimstone, and see horn, it is time to run.

Gee whiz, A! Don't sugarcoat it. Tell us what you really think!

Yet our CAPS bard has a fair point. Right now, MasterCard investors are sitting on the horn of a real dilemma. Their stock sells for 27 times trailing earnings and is even more expensive on a price-to-free cash flow basis. Maybe those are fair prices to pay for a dominant financial company like this -- maybe. But I submit that this can be true only if analyst estimates of 21% long-term profits growth are at least accurate, and preferably conservative.

If a consumer-driven recession causes MasterCard to produce anything less than what's expected of it, this stock is going to step off a cliff.

Who said that?
To learn the identities of the wise Fools who penned these words, examine their records, and see whether they know whereof they speak, and to explore the plethora of additional financial data we've put together on the company, head on over to MasterCard's page on CAPS.

JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. Discover Financial Services and American Express are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. The Fool owns shares of American Express. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days..

Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no shares of any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's ranked No. 685 out of more than 110,000 players. The Fool has a disclosure policy.