When investors are riding on the back of a 450% gain since the company went public two years ago, MasterCard (NYSE:MA) has some pretty high expectations to live up to.

So even though its second-quarter earnings were actually quite good, investors couldn't look past the one-time, $1.65 billion pre-tax legal expense that nicked results, sending shares down more than 9%.

MasterCard swung to a net loss of $747 million, or $5.74 per diluted share, from the $252 million profit, or $1.86 per share, earned in the same period last year. As mentioned, the results were stung by a one-time antitrust litigation payment to American Express (NYSE:AXP). Strip out the charge, and MasterCard would have earned $276 million, or $2.11 per diluted share -- a pretty respectable result.  

Revenue for the quarter rose 25%, to $1.2 billion, gaining ground on currency fluctuations, a 13.6% gain in total transactions processed, and cross-border growth of nearly 19%.

Looking past the one-time charge, MasterCard is still a stellar company. Like its famous foe Visa (NYSE:V), the company is powering ahead because of the worldwide push to a cashless (or cash-strapped) economy. With only about 45% of purchase volume coming from the U.S., it's a global growth story. Since the company is removed from the actual credit losses plaguing consumers, it isn't a credit crunch story. The big question becomes, is MasterCard a value story? The answer here is a bit washy.  

With shares at $250 a pop, you're paying about 23 times next year's expected earnings of $11.03 per share. That's cheaper than Visa, but it's by no means a screaming value, either. If you're dead set on jumping into a credit card processor, MasterCard is probably a safer bet than Visa. For one, it comes attached with the European segment (Visa doesn't). Because, for all intents and purposes, these companies are identical in operations, it's hard to justify Visa's premium. Do you really care what logo your card has in the bottom corner? I sure don't.

Visa is the newcomer on the market, so it's getting all the hype right now. Don't get me wrong -- it deserves the hype -- but it's undoubtedly taking attention away from the equally impressive performance at MasterCard.

How do you feel about MasterCard's stock? In Motley Fool CAPS, which includes 110,000 members, it gets a three-star rating, compared with Visa's four-star status. See what everyone else is saying about these high-flying companies over at CAPS. We'd love to get your input, too.

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Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. American Express is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick, and the Fool owns shares of it. The Fool has a disclosure policy.