Citing global economic uncertainty, Visa Inc. moved its target for annual revenue growth for the next two years to the lower end of its projection of 11% to 15%, and said revenue growth could fall to the single digits during the six-month period that will end Sept. 30.
But the company maintained its earnings growth target of 20% or more, which it said it could meet even if revenue grew only in the mid-to-high single digits in 2010.
During a conference call Wednesday to discuss results for its fiscal fourth quarter, which ended Sept. 30, Joseph Saunders, Visa's chief executive, also addressed how consolidation in the banking industry would affect his San Francisco company. "We believe that we are in good shape," he said. Consolidation has accelerated but "has been a constant factor in the financial industry for decades," and Visa has adapted. "Past mergers in the industry have not had a negative effect on us."
Mr. Saunders would not discuss potential brand switches resulting from issuer acquisitions, and he put off until next quarter a discussion of whether the overall availability of credit card debt is shrinking, saying he wanted to "observe what has happened from all of this movement in the last several weeks."
Visa is experiencing "a further slowdown in consumer spending in the U.S., as well as cross-border volumes," he said, but during the fiscal fourth quarter nationwide transaction volume growth "continued to trend at the 10% level seen in the June quarter."
In the fiscal third quarter, global transaction volume rose 19.2% from a year earlier, to $1.1 trillion, compared with 22% growth in the fiscal second quarter. In the United States, transaction volume grew 8.8% in the fiscal third quarter, to $526 billion, compared with 10.9% growth in the fiscal second quarter. (Visa's largest revenue category is driven by fees set according to volume during the previous quarter, and it does not publish detailed volume statistics for the most recent quarter.)
Mr. Saunders said U.S. credit card volume rose "in the 1% to 2% range for most of the quarter" but fell during the first three weeks of this month. Debit volume "continued to grow at low double digits."
Growth in cross-border volume fell from the "high teens" in the fiscal third quarter to "the high single digits" in the fiscal fourth quarter. Visa said cross-border growth continued to fall this month.
Cross-border revenue, which made up almost a third of Visa's operating revenue in the most recent quarter, was helped by pricing increases introduced in April.
Sanjay Sakhrani, an analyst with KBW Inc.'s Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., wrote that Visa's projection for 20% earnings growth even if revenue growth falls below its target reflects its ability "to pare back on costs to manage through these turbulent times."
Mr. Saunders said his company remains "committed to managing our expenses prudently without compromising investments in products [or] technology necessary to fuel future growth."
Mr. Sakhrani lowered his projection for Visa's volume growth next year by 2 percentage points, to 8%, and cut his projected revenue growth from price increases and new product offerings in half, to 1%. "We think this is a realistic scenario to assume in the current environment but concede that it is hard to predict how severe it can ultimately get," he wrote.