Saturday, September 29, 2007

More Bank Profiteering From Record Gas Prices (

Regularly, interchange fee increases take place in the Fall and mid-Spring. We are closely monitoring to see whether Visa® and MasterCard® will be even more brazen and again hike their fees. But, one sector of our economy is posed to create unheard of profiteering for the card associations and its tens-of-thousands of member banks. We also wonder if the financial turmoil in the world credit cards, might create an opportunity for the banks illegally raise prices by agreement as they seek new profits by raising their interchange fees to cover the mortgage meltdown?

As gas prices continue to soar, so too is interchange fee profiteering, due to what we assert are illegal price-fixing by agreement and absolute market power (Visa and MasterCard's network controls about 80% of the electronic payment business).

Rather than rescinding their unjustified hidden-taxes on motorists and our entire economy, we are alarmed to learn that, according to The Wall Street Journal (page 1. Sept 29) [click here to read the article - subscription required], gas prices could rise to $100.00 a barrel. The two WSJ reporters, Peter Fritsch and Kelly Evans, explained how the U.S. economy could withstand $100 a barrel oil, but they were absent in also mentioning exactly what that stratospheric rate would do to the banks' bottom line. Nor did they explain how the banks can possibly justify this extraordinary profiteering as our nation faces such a burdensome economic energy crisis.

Forget, for a moment, ExxonMobil and other gas companies' earnings, and pause to ask why exactly are credit card interchange fees based on a percent of each sale? Even Realtors are dealing and lowering their once standard 6% commissions; in this case the banks are reaping about 1.7% off the top from every credit card charge at the pumps. Could they be earning as much as $2.00 - $3.00 from every fill-up, especially as motorists are now more inclined to use plastic, as they do not have enough cash on hand?

Last year, MasterCard announced they were instituting a $50.00 interchange fee cap at the pumps. Visa, however, has been silent on the issue, and we are unsure whether the fee limit by MasterCard ever took effect.

Either way, since many of the same banks which control MasterCard, also have stakes in Visa, it is really a giant shell game anyway.