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The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is among those arguing against industry rules that force businesses who accept Visa or MasterCard to treat all types of their cards equally, regardless of the cost of processing the payments.

BOBBY YIP/REUTERS

The move towards a cashless existence has been very good for Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc. – so good, in fact, that it is becoming awfully difficult for investors to distinguish between the two companies.

The blurred lines went even blurrier on Monday, when both credit card companies announced their latest ventures into cashlessness.

MasterCard announced that its MasterPass will allow consumers to make purchases from tablets and smartphones without having to plug in their credit card information each time. And, similarly, Visa said that its payWave, developed in conjunction with Samsung, will transform handsets into credit cards.

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The difference? We're not entirely sure. But nor is the stock market, it seems. While both Visa and MasterCard were down on Monday with weakness in the broader market, both stocks have enjoyed remarkable rallies longer-term: Visa has risen 270 per cent over the past five years, after factoring in dividends, which is more than 10-times the return for the S&P 500. MasterCard has risen 149 per cent – which might look like a laggard until you realized that it is up 1200 per cent from its initial public offering in 2006.

Meanwhile, both stocks have similar dividend yields (0.5 per cent for MasterCard; 0.8 per cent for Visa) and similar estimated price-to-earnings ratios in the low-20s.

The biggest difference seems to be size. Visa's market capitalization is double MasterCard's – making Visa more attractive to investors who believe that the bigger size translates into market heft, and MasterCard more attractive because of its potential to grow.

Either way, though, these are bets on consumers moving away from cash. And that bet looks awfully sound.

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About the Author
Investing Reporter

David Berman has been writing about business and investing since 1995. He has written for a number of magazines, including Canadian Business and MoneySense. He worked at the Financial Post as an investing writer and daily columnist before moving to the Globe and Mail in 2008. More

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