Spurred by unprecedented growth in China and Asia/Pacific, MasterCard's global credit and debit card volume jumped to $103 billion in the first quarter, 26% above the year-earlier level.

The number of cards in circulation worldwide rose 23%, to 289 million.

In the United States, MasterCard reported, credit and debit card volume jumped 22%, to $44 billion. The number of cards was up 21%, to 155 million.

MasterCard said it enjoyed double-digit growth in all regions. It also said its Maestro on-line debit program had doubled, with 42.4 million cards in use at the end of the first quarter.

The New York-based association said spending was up on the average credit and debit purchase - to $96 a transaction - the highest level in MasterCard history.

"The bottom line is the pie is growing for members," said Alan J. Heuer, MasterCard's U.S. region president.

He attributes the strong growth to increased utility of credit and debit cards, through wider acceptance in new areas such as grocery stores, government agencies, and discount warehouses.

"Credit cards are continuing to displace cash and checks," he continued,"All our issuers and acquirers are benefiting."

In Asia, MasterCard experienced 43% sales volume growth to $25.6 billion, with 21% growth in cards to 54 million.

China also continued "explosive growth" with more than a 100% increase in volume, to $12.3 billion, and a 63% increase in cards, to 6.5 million.

Mr. Heuer said he "can't see the end" of the growth. He pointed out that only 15% of transactions are made by credit card, with the rest made by cash and check. "It's a tremendous opportunity for credit cards," he said.

Visa International also reported strong growth in Asia/Pacific, with $21.5 billion in sales volume, 18% more than 1994's first quarter. Cards rose 11% to 70 million.

Visa's overall numbers increased as well. Worldwide sales volume reached $172 billion, up 26% from the year before.

The number of Visa cards issued globally increased 17% to 401.5 million worldwide.

Although Visa remains dominant, Mr. Heuer said, "Our members don't want us focusing on market share, they want us to focus on helping them make more money."

Visa U.S.A. reported a 33% increase in volume to $78 billion, with 213 million Visa credit and debit cards issued - 21% more than the same period last year.

Visa U.S.A. said its Visa Check card issuers reported 22.7 million cardholders at the end of the first quarter, a 52% increase over the same period in 1994.

Total number of transactions increased to 135 million, from 74 million a year ago, with volume of more than $6 billion, up 64% from last year's first quarter.

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