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MasterCard has released its quarterly report for 2011, showing a 24 percent rise in credit card profits over the same quarter last year and fueling speculation over how it will measure up to its biggest rival when Visa reports its own quarterly profits on Thursday.

On May 3, MasterCard reported its first quarter earnings for 2011. Revenue for the credit card giant rose to $1.5 billion (15 percent over last year), and the company's net income rose 24 percent to $562 million.

The jump in MasterCard profits exceeds analysts' expectations, according to Dividend.com, and pushed the company's shares high in pre-market trading this week. Although Wall Street analysts had predicted a profit of $4.10 per share, actual figures were $4.29 per share, up from $3.46 a year ago. As a result of the quarterly report release, MasterCard shares rose $7.70, or 2.8 percent, in pre-market trading on Tuesday.

How did MasterCard do it?

How has MasterCard revived its profits after the recent economic crash? An emphasis on producing the best rewards credit card and offering creative credit card deals has certainly boosted the industry in the past year, but these changes aren't unique to MasterCard. Although the variety of rewards programs has enabled consumers to compare credit cards and choose the one best suited to their needs, that alone doesn't account for MasterCard's success this past quarter.

According to the Wall Street Journal online, MasterCard attributes the rise in 2011 profits to steady economic improvements, which are encouraging many business owners and consumers to spend more optimistically and return to using the credit cards they had avoided in the wake of the recent recession.

Capital One survey shows growing optimism

Forbes.com reported that a new set of survey results released by Capital One this week reinforce this impression, with 41 percent of small businesses showing improvement in the first quarter of 2011 and 61 percent experiencing stronger sales in 2011 than in 2010.