updated 10/27/2009 6:03:35 PM ET 2009-10-27T22:03:35

Visa Inc. on Tuesday posted a profit for its fiscal fourth quarter, reversing a year-ago loss, as cost reductions and growing debit card use made up for a decline in payment volume reflecting consumer spending cutbacks.

The payments processor reported a profit of $514 million, or 69 cents per share, on revenue of $1.87 billion. Adjusted for restructuring charges and other items, the company said it earned 74 cents per share.

That compares with a year-ago loss of $356 million, or 45 cents per share, on revenue of $1.71 billion.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, on average, expected Visa to post profit of 72 cents per share, on revenue of $1.78 billion. Analysts typically exclude one-time items in their estimates.

Visa, which is based in San Francisco, said payment volume slipped 2 percent, to $687 million. But the total number of cards carrying the Visa brand rose 5 percent worldwide, to 1.7 billion, and total processed transactions rose 9 percent to 10.5 billion.

The increased number of cards and the higher transaction volume reflect the growing use of debit cards over credit cards, as consumers continue to tighten their belts.

Debit card use is also up because banks have cut back on the number of credit cards and amount of available credit they offer to consumers, as defaults continue to rise. Several large card issuers have reported past-due credit card payments approaching 10 percent in recent weeks. That figure tends to track unemployment, and is expected to keep rising through mid 2010.

Visa's fourth-quarter operating expenses dropped by more than half, to $1.01 billion, from $2.15 billion a year ago.

The majority of the decline came from reduced litigation spending following the settlement of several major lawsuits. But even while the company said earlier Tuesday that it renewed its sponsorship of the Olympic Games through 2020, it reported a 12 percent drop in advertising and marketing spending in the fourth quarter to $283 million.

Chairman and CEO Joseph W. Saunders said Visa is beginning to see signs of stabilization in its business that appear to reflect early signs economic recovery.

For the fiscal year, Visa posted a profit of $2.35 billion, or $3.10 per share, up from $804 million, or 96 cents per share, last year. Revenue rose 10 percent to $6.91 billion, from $6.26 billion in fiscal 2008.

The company also said its board approved plan to buy back up to $1 billion in stock through Sept. 30, 2010.

For 2010, Visa predicted greater than 20 percent growth in its per-share earnings, implying profit above $3.72 per share. Revenue is expected to rise 11 to 15 percent, implying a forecast between $7.67 billion and $7.95 billion.

Analysts were projecting 2010 profit of $3.44 per share, on revenue of $7.51 billion.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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