Retailers press forward on $7.2 billion card fee settlement

Thu Aug 9, 2012 4:41pm EDT
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By Jessica Dye

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lawyers for U.S. retailers said on Thursday they expect to submit a proposed $7.2 billion antitrust settlement with Visa Inc and Mastercard Inc for court approval within the next several months, despite opposition to the pact from some large merchants.

The plaintiffs do not expect to make any changes to the proposed settlement when it is submitted for preliminary approval by an October 19 deadline, said co-lead counsel Craig Wildfang following a hearing in Brooklyn federal court.

"We're going as fast as we can - not as fast as we'd like, but we're making progress," he told U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein during the hearing, referring to supporting documents for the settlement.

The settlement would be the largest antitrust settlement in U.S. history. It would resolve a seven-year-old lawsuit accusing the two credit card companies of conspiring with major banks to artificially inflate interchange fees, the amount paid to process electronic transactions involving credit and debit cards.

The settlement requires approval by U.S. District Judge John Gleeson, who oversaw retailers' previous $3 billion swipe-fee settlement with Visa and Mastercard in 2003.

As part of the new pact, the credit card companies have offered to pay $6 billion and temporarily reduce interchange fees, also known as swipe fees, to save stores approximately $1.2 billion over an eight-month period, according to court papers.

Despite support from Visa and Mastercard, which would pay the bulk of the $6 billion, the settlement has received a frosty reception from several trade associations and some big retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc and Target Corp.

The National Association of Convenience Stores publicly rejected the settlement, and trade groups representing grocers and pharmacies, among others, have since voiced objections.   Continued...

A credit card user displays her cards in Washington February 22, 2010. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque