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MasterCard beats on rise in card spend, cautious on 2013

An employee stands behind a MasterCard logo during the launch of the international credit card issuer's first ATM transaction in Myanmar, in
An employee stands behind a MasterCard logo during the launch of the international credit card issuer's first ATM transaction in Myanmar, in

(Reuters) - MasterCard Inc's fourth-quarter results topped Wall Street estimates as more people chose card payments over cash but the payment network said global economic woes could slow revenue growth in 2013.

Shares of company, which had risen 4 percent in early trade, changed course and were down more than $1 at $514.35 in late-morning trade on the New York Stock Exchange.

"There is going to be uncertainty in Europe and the US could well be on a path for a slow recovery, but fiscal policy discussions and circumstances have not been completely resolved," Chief Executive Ajay Banga said on a conference call. "They could affect consumer confidence further."

U.S. consumer sentiment unexpectedly deteriorated for a second straight month to its lowest in over a year in January, while a weaker economy in the United Kingdom is pushing the country closer to a "triple-dip" recession.

"Given the current economic backdrop, we expect net revenue growth in the first half of 2013 to be below the 10.7 percent currency-adjusted rate that we saw in the second half of 2012," Chief Financial Officer Martina Hund-Mejean said.

But she backed the company's long-term earnings objectives. MasterCard expects 20 percent compounded annual growth on an earnings-per-share basis in the 2013 to 2015 period.

BETTING ON AFRICA, MOBILE

MasterCard and larger rival Visa Inc run debit and credit card networks and have been working to spread card payments in parts of the world dominated by cash transactions.

For both companies, business in Africa, Asia and the Middle East has been growing faster than the United States of the last few quarters.

MasterCard customers made $727 billion of purchases worldwide on a local currency basis, up 13 percent.

Purchase volumes in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa grew at 19.5 percent, far outpacing the 7.1 percent rise in the United States.

The company is now focusing on tie-ups with banks in Africa and Brazil, where mobile and card payments are on the rise.

It signed a deal with Equity Bank of Kenya earlier this month to issue five million debit and prepaid cards over the next 18-months. The deal will also be extended to Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and South Sudan later.

The company has also partnered with TIM, the second-largest mobile network operator in Brazil, to launch a mobile money program for its subscribers.

"I'm trying to put my bets in multiple places in mobile," Chief Executive Ajay Banga said on the call.

Banga wants the company to be able to offer all kinds of mobile payments, including tap-and-go transactions, transferring money via short messaging services and mobile wallets.

RESULTS BEAT

MasterCard's emerging markets focus boosted its fourth-quarter results. It earned $605 million, or $4.86 per share, in the quarter, up from $19 million, or 15 cents per share, a year earlier.

The Purchase, New York-based company took a $495 million litigation charge in the year-ago quarter.

Fourth-quarter revenue rose 10 percent to $1.9 billion - the fastest it has grown in three quarters.

Analysts on average expected the company to earn $4.81 per share, excluding items, on revenue of $1.89 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

MasterCard's results bode well for Visa, which is slated to report earnings next week.

(Reporting by Jochelle Mendonca in Bangalore; Editing by Roshni Menon and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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