For today's consumers, there's nothing like cash on the barrelhead — and that's giving Visa Inc., with a stronger debit card foothold than MasterCard Inc., an advantage in the competition for card transactions.

Visa's overall U.S. payments volume grew in its fiscal first quarter, which ended Dec. 31; MasterCard's volume declined from a year earlier in the corresponding period (though it grew slightly from the previous quarter). Visa's margins expanded; MasterCard's shrunk. Visa's profits trounced analyst estimates; MasterCard's missed them.

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