By Joe Rauch
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - Visa Inc's quarterly profit rose by 40 percent, and the world's largest payment processor said it would introduce a new fee structure for U.S. merchants.
Visa Chief Executive Joseph Saunders, in a conference call with analysts, said the payment processor would introduce a network participation fee in the United States for all of its debit, credit and prepaid card services.
As part of the new policy, Visa also will lower the variable rate charged for transactions.
Visa's shift away from per-transaction fees is a large departure for the San Francisco-based company. It is being done in advance of new fee caps that take effect later this year as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
Saunders did not disclose what the participation fee will be, but said it will be based on a merchant's size, and the merchants' number of locations. He also said the new fees did not rule out future price changes.
Due to the overhaul and the new fee caps imposed by Dodd-Frank, Saunders said 2012 will be a "low point" for debit card processing fees.
"We won't do as well as we have," he said.
The new program comes as Visa reported better-than-expected fiscal third quarter results, and plans to buy back an additional $1 billion in shares over the next year.
For Visa, the quarterly results highlight consumers' increasing reliance on debit and credit cards rather than cash or checks to make everyday purchases.
"They're getting better results as consumers are shifting from paper to plastic," said Shannon Stemm, a financial services analyst with Edward Jones.
Analysts said the company's continued profits drove the new share buyback program, following a similar $1 billion share buyback announced in April and completed in the fiscal third quarter.
Visa on Wednesday reported fiscal third-quarter net income of $1 billion, or $1.43 per Class A common share, up from $716 million, or 97 cents per share, a year ago.
Excluding the one-time, noncash gain on its Visa Europe put option, Visa earned $883 million, or $1.26 per share.
Analysts estimated Visa would report net income of $1.23 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Total operating revenue increased 14 percent to $2.3 billion from a year ago.
Total payment volumes increased 17 percent to $941 billion from $802 billion.
Visa's international business is becoming a larger portion of its quarterly results. Payments outside the U.S. -- $422 billion -- accounted for 44 percent of Visa's third quarter volume, up from 41 percent a year ago, when such payments totaled $333 billion.
Visa shares closed down 1.6 percent, or $1.45, at $87.75 on the New York Stock Exchange before results were announced.
(Reporting by Joe Rauch; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Phil Berlowitz and Carol Bishopric)