Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change
Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

Americans still using their MasterCards and Visas

4 ways to buy credit

The new year has been tough for U.S. investors, but as the results from MasterCard and Visa show consumers appear unfazed by the stock market's choppiness and the fears of a recession that has generated.

In the fourth quarter MasterCard reported that purchase volume in the U.S rose 8.4 percent, up from 7.6 percent in 2015. Visa's volume declined slightly to 8.9 percent from 9.4 percent.

In an interview following the earnings call, MasterCard CFO Martina Hund-Mejean told CNBC that the company feels pretty good about consumers and does not anticipate a change in their spending patterns this year. Hund-Mejean said the fourth-quarter purchase volumes reflect an increased willingness of consumers to spend the money they have been saving on lower gas prices.

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"What they are doing, and this only happened in the latter part of the year, is that rather than saving it, they are now feeling they can put it toward other discretionary spending," she said.

A woman walks past a Westpac bank advertisement in central Sydney, Australia.
Daniel Munoz | Reuters

Hund-Mejean said that when she looks at the data MasterCard puts together for its monthly SpendingPulse report, the data show consumers spending more on furniture and home furnishings, and quite a bit on automotive services. She said there has been a nice step up in apparel spending, and that restaurants, lodging and airlines were growth areas in December.

In the fourth quarter, she said, there was not as much growth in appliances and electronics, a space that typically moves when a new product such as an updated version of Apple's iPhone is introduced.

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SpendingPulse provides a close read on consumers' buying habits as it looks at aggregate spend in the U.S, including cash transactions, not just transactions processed on MasterCard's network.

So far in 2016, though it is still early, Hund-Mejean said the fourth-quarter spending patterns are holding.

When gas prices started falling last year, consumers were unusually reluctant to spend the savings, putting away about half of the proceeds from falling pump prices, by some estimates. Hund-Mejean said it is difficult for the payments giant to measure how much consumers were saving in the past, but the last six months suggest a willingness to spend more.