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As impressive as the market's climb has been this year, payment network
V) has managed to do one better. Shares of the incumbent payment processor have rallied more than 32% since the first trading session of 2013. And a breakout to new all-time highs on Friday looks good for shares in the months ahead.
Visa is the top dog in the payment card business. Its logo is printed on around two-thirds of the world's credit and debit cards, giving it a serious positive feedback loop when it comes to courting customers and merchants. Consumers see Visa's network accepted everywhere they shop, so they're more likely to get a Visa-braded card, and merchants see more customers whip out a Visa than any other brand, so they're more willing to keep accepting Visa. That makes the firm's network extremely hard to replicate for rival networks unless they're willing to take a huge haircut on the fees they charge.
During the Great Recession, Visa benefited in a big way from its lack of exposure to consumer credit. After all, it's just the payment network, not the card issuer. So when consumers shredded their credit cards in favor of debit, they still put dollar volume through Visa's network. With the dominant share of the business, Visa is well-positioned to capitalize on the growth of the electronic payments business. As more consumers worldwide stop carrying cash or checks in favor of more-convenient payment options, a rising tide should lift all ships in the sector -- just some more than others.