Visa, the world's largest payments network, posted fiscal first-quarter profit that beat analysts' estimates as card spending increased. The company announced a 4-for-1 stock split.

Net income for the period ended Dec. 31 rose 12 percent to $1.57 billion, or $2.53 a share, from $1.41 billion, or $2.20, a year earlier, the Foster City, California-based company said Thursday in a statement. The average estimate of 34 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg was for profit of $2.49 a share, adjusted for one-time items.

Chief Executive Officer Charlie Scharf, 49, is boosting payouts to shareholders as more consumers global shift from cash and checks to electronic payments. Visa last year increased its quarterly dividend by 20 percent to 48 cents a share.

"Our focus remains squarely on investing in our long-term strategic initiatives, driving new technologies and ways to pay," Scharf said today in a statement. "While the challenges of the macro global environment don't seem to abate, our results have remained consistent and reflect the strength and underlying resilience of our business model."

Revenue rose 7.2 percent to $3.38 billion as spending on Visa's network in regions including the U.S. and Asia increased. A strengthening U.S. dollar, which has curbed business overseas, affected earnings by about 2 percentage points, the company said. Cross-border volume, adjusting for currencies,increased 4 percent, compared with a 9 percent advance in the previous period. Costs tied to client incentives were $713 million, or 17.4 percent of gross revenue, which beat analysts' estimates of 18.6 percent.

The 4-for-1 stock split will take effect March 19, the company said. The split means Goldman Sachs Group Inc. will replace Visa as the most heavily weighted component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Visa rose 3.5 percent to $256.75 at 4:28 p.m. in extended trading in New York. The shares declined 5.4 percent this year through the close of regular trading, compared with the 2.3 percent slide of the 30-company Dow.

Scharf has focused on improving relationships with merchants and working with technology companies including Apple Inc. as consumers increasingly use mobile phones and other digital devices to make transactions. Visa also stands to benefit from a pickup in consumer spending as the U.S. economy grows at a faster rate than many other nations.

"Visa's outsize exposure to the United States appears to be an advantage in this economic environment," Christopher Donat, an analyst at Sandler O'Neill & Partners LP, said before results were released. "Less exposure to Europe appears desirable in coming years."

The company said in October that revenue growth, adjusted for currencies, will be in the "low double digits" this fiscal year, helped by planned changes to fees it charges banks for processing transactions.

The U.S. jobless rate fell last month to the lowest level since June 2008, capping the best year for the labor market since 1999. Consumer confidence, an indication of potential spending, soared in January to the highest level in more than seven years as a better job market and falling gasoline prices boosted prospects.

American Express Co., the nation's biggest credit-card issuer by purchases, said Jan. 21 that fourth-quarter profit increased 11 percent to $1.45 billion as revenue rose 6.6 percent. MasterCard Inc., the second-largest U.S. payment network, is scheduled to report results on Friday.

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