US retail sales ticked up 0.4% in October compared to September, according to data released by the US Commerce Department Wednesday. But, if autos were taken out of the data, the increase would be 0.2%. In September, ex-auto sales were 0.4%.
On a year-over-year basis, all retail sales are up 3.9%. Of all sectors, though, autos sales were the big winner in October. Compared to last year, vehicles and auto parts sales were up 10.6% from last year.
With all that spending, you would expect credit card balances – and delinquencies – to be on an upswing. In fact, the opposite is true, according to credit information service TransUnion. Average credit card balances in the last quarter were actually down to $5,235, a decline of 1.3% from the third quarter of 2012. The delinquency rate (90 days or more) was 1.36% -- up from the previous quarter's 1.27% -- but down from last year's 1.5%. Transunion expects delinquencies to rise to 1.48% due to holiday spending.
(Read more: Average credit card debt per borrower falls in 3Q)
Thus, while US retail sales are up, American consumers seem to be paying down their debt, albeit a little less on time. So, what does that mean for credit card companies, particularly the industry leader, Visa?
"If you're looking at declining credit card purchases across the entire space, Visa – of all of the credit card companies – has the largest acceptance rate," notes CNBC contributor Gina Sanchez, founder of Chantico Global. "They have the largest international rate. And, that's a place where you still have largely cash-based economies that can still expand into credit cards."
"They're a great growth play," says Sanchez. "This is a company that has grown their revenues by 20% year after year. So, I think Visa is quite a good play even in a declining credit card balance environment."
Since going public in 2008, shares in Visa are up 250%. It's year-to-date returns are nearly 31%, outpacing the S&P 500 index's 25% and the 29% returns of the industry's tracking ETF, the XLF.
Talking Numbers contributor Richard Ross, Global Technical Strategist at Auerbach Grayson, says the chart for Visa is simple. According to Ross, the 150-day moving average holds the key for the stock's price.
To see Ross' technical analysis and Sanchez's fundamental analysis on Visa, watch the video above.
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