Sunday, January 29, 2006

Visa International to Split Up Overseas Divisions; Hedge Against Antitrust Litigation (

The Financial Times, reporting from the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan 29th wrote that Visa International plans to split several of its overseas divisions. In part, to hedge against their exposure to billions of dollars from merchant interchange litigation.

The mega-banks which control Visa and MasterCard are knitting a plan to become more "transparent" and "independent." While a prudent strategy looking forward, it does little to address their more than decade-long illegal price-fixing accusations. If Visa's plan is to protect its international divisions from the litigation against Visa U.S.A. Inc., the antitrust class-action also names Visa International Service Association as a defendant.

Interestingly, this news comes less than two-days after MasterCard failed in its attempt to disqualify the lead attorneys representing the merchants in what is the largest antitrust case since the breakup of AT&T in the early 1980s.

Earlier, Visa USA announced they would elect independent, outside directors to its board, then MasterCard filed for an IPO. Now, Visa International is using the old shell game to create new entities abroad. The Credit Card Interchange Report is not surprised by this overseas shift, especially because we are aware of visits to our site from across the globe, as this is an international issue.

This added international attention, just prior to the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in Italy is actually helpful to the antitrust litigation. Visa, as a global Olympic partner has amplified the current scrutiny from our unanswered question: why are merchant interchange fees in Los Angeles averaging 1.7%, yet in Torino, Italy the charge is only .70 percent?

These pursuits by Visa International are nothing more than shell games and anything but transparent as the credit card associations face hundreds of billions of dollar in damages.

The Financial Times also reported that Michael Lafferty, chairman of the International Card and Payments Council, said "a loss of tens of billions of dollars, whether through a court judgment or an expensive settlement, could bankrupt the global cards industry." Mr. Lafferty, like everyone connected with the banks again failed to address the issue, not about the penalty, but about the illegal action of price-fixing.