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UPDATE 3-Mastercard sees near-term rebound in travel from pandemic slump

(Rewrites throughout, adds comments from conference call)

Jan 28 (Reuters) - Mastercard Inc on Thursday signaled a near-term rebound in business as it expects an uptick in travel due to easing lockdowns and improved COVID-19 vaccination efforts, after the credit-card giant beat estimates for fourth-quarter profit.

In the December quarter, the company’s revenue declined at a slower pace than in the preceding quarters, although the pandemic continues to weigh on its cross-border volumes.

Business travel will take longer to recover than personal travel, the company said, and also indicated it does not expect spending in the current quarter to improve from its January levels, which have been boosted by the stimulus package.

In the third week of January, transactions in the U.S. were up 7%, but those outside the United States dropped 2%, the company said.

While travel has taken a massive hit due to the pandemic, a surge in contactless payments has helped card companies mitigate the impact of the health crisis to a certain extent.

“Progress may not be linear, but we believe there is significant pent-up demand for travel. And we continue to expect to see improvements in the second half of the year,” Chief Executive Officer Michael Miebach said on a post-earnings call.

Shares of Mastercard were up 3.6% in mid-day trade, after results showed growth in overall volumes during the fourth quarter, despite a resurgence in COVID-19 cases. Other card companies such as Visa Inc and American Express Co were up too, helped mostly by broader market gains.

Excluding items, Mastercard reported a net income of $1.64 per share for the quarter ended Dec. 31, compared with average estimates of $1.51 per share, according to the IBES estimate from Refinitiv.

Gross dollar volume - a measure of the dollar volume of transactions - rose 1% from a year earlier to $1.7 trillion on a local currency basis.

Cross-border volume, a measure for spending outside the country where the card was issued, fell 29% on a local currency basis.

Net revenue fell 7% to $4.1 billion, but still came in slightly ahead of estimates of roughly $4 billion. (Reporting by Niket Nishant in Bengaluru; Writing by Anirban Sen; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

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