The Fallout From a Credit Card Shake-Up


A long-running fight between the credit card giants Visa and Mastercard and retailers in the United States is nearing an end, with the promise of lower fees for merchants.

But the proposed class-action settlement could have wider consequences, including for the lucrative business of high-end credit cards — and for retailers.

What’s in the settlement: Visa and Mastercard said on Tuesday that they had agreed to reduce swipe fees, costs associated with the use of a credit card, for about five years. Lawyers for merchants who had brought the case estimate that this could save about $30 billion worth of fees.

Perhaps more important, merchants will be able to raise their prices based on the kind of card. For example, buying groceries with a higher-fee card — typically a premium card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve — could become more expensive than paying with a lower-end one.

Why it matters: Swipe fees, also known as interchange fees, are a big business; the Nilson Report, which tracks the payments industry, estimates that Visa, Mastercard and card-issuing banks collected $72 billion last year alone.

For card issuers, much of that money is then funneled into rewards associated with high-end cards, which entice consumers to spend more, racking up more fees for the banks (and, potentially, interest on unpaid balances).

The settlement may change that business. Consumers may be less inclined to use higher-end cards if it means they will have to pay more. Some analysts think banks could still fiddle with rewards programs to keep users hooked, but the business probably won’t be as profitable as it once was.

Retailers will face a choice. They will have the freedom to charge more for the use of rewards cards, but will they want to annoy customers?

The proposed change “makes the merchants the tax collector for the charges — and it makes merchants the bad guy in the eyes of the consumer,” Doug Kantor, general counsel for the National Association of Convenience Stores, told The Times. (Some merchants may end up swallowing the costs.)

Expect further pressure on the credit card industry. Some analysts say the settlement allows smaller retailers to band together to negotiate with card issuers. And Senator Dick Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who has long fought to rein in swipe fees, will most likely press forward with legislation that would impose more competition upon Visa and Mastercard.

The Supreme Court looks unlikely to restrict access to mifepristone. Justices appeared skeptical of arguments made on Tuesday that the F.D.A. acted improperly in widening availability of the abortion pill. While the case touches on abortion, experts say it has more consequences for the rule-making ability of federal agencies.

The F.T.C. reportedly may sue TikTok over its data security practices. The agency is examining whether the video app deceived users by denying that individuals in China had access to their data and ran afoul of a child privacy law, according to Politico. Federal charges would be the latest point of pressure on ByteDance, the Chinese tech giant, as Congress weighs forcing it to divest TikTok over national security concerns.

Cocoa prices hit a record. May futures for the commodity broke past $10,000 per metric ton on Tuesday, as unfavorable weather conditions and disease have ravaged cocoa crops in major producers like Ivory Coast and Ghana. That could hurt snack giants like Hershey and Mondelez, which have been raising prices for chocolate products and increasingly promoting non-chocolate alternatives.

Apple is expected to introduce its artificial intelligence strategy in June. Bloomberg reports that the iPhone maker’s annual developers conference, scheduled to begin June 10, will focus heavily on A.I. (An Apple executive said in the event’s announcement that it would be “Absolutely Incredible” — get it?) Tech watchers have awaited updates from the company on the sector amid reports that it has been in talks with Google and OpenAI about incorporating their services into iOS.

The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and the shutdown of one of the United States’ busiest ports is testing an already strained global supply chain, with experts warning that the deadly episode could lead to a wave of insurance claims worth billions of dollars and cause significant economic damage.

The authorities are investigating why the propulsion system on the Dali, a 985-foot-long cargo ship that struck the bridge, failed. Officials said that six missing construction crew members that had been working on the span were presumed dead.

The ship was carrying cargo for the Danish shipping giant Maersk. Built in 2015, the Dali was a workhorse used worldwide. Last year, inspectors in Chile flagged a deficiency with the boat’s “propulsion and auxiliary machinery,” but it’s unclear if that’s related to Tuesday’s incident.

The collision puts a focus on the nation’s aging infrastructure. President Biden said he wanted the federal government to pay to rebuild the bridge (an investment that could have an inflationary effect, Citigroup’s Andrew Hollenhorst told Bloomberg).

Last year, more than $80 billion worth of goods transited through the Port of Baltimore, including lumber, coal and construction equipment. Ford, General Motors and Volkswagen largely rely on the port to ship cars and light trucks.

Companies and shipping operators were scrambling to reroute cargo vessels. Disruptions during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic showed how quickly delays could snarl the logistics sector, creating traffic jams and weekslong waits at sea. But big lessons have been learned on how to adapt.

“The ports in Norfolk and New York and New Jersey have capacity to handle the overflow,” Lars Jensen, the C.E.O. of Vespucci Maritime, a consulting firm, told DealBook. “This will create some delays and bottlenecks and costs, but nothing disastrous.”

Global trade routes are already under pressure. The Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen has vowed to step up its attacks on ships in the Red Sea, a campaign that has muddled a vital trade route and sent freight rates soaring. Ships are also avoiding the drought-stricken Panama Canal.

Until Tuesday, trade routes into the East Coast of the U.S. had been largely free of disruption, analysts note.

President Xi Jinping of China met with a group of U.S. business leaders in Beijing on Wednesday, trying to show that his country isn’t closed to American businesses and investors.

But the photo op probably won’t end trade tensions between the world’s two biggest economies, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen set to issue a new warning about China’s clean energy exports flooding the global market.

The C.E.O.s wanted to project normality. American executives who attended the event — including Steve Schwarzman of Blackstone; Cristiano Amon of Qualcomm; Raj Subramaniam of FedEx; Evan Greenberg of Chubb, the insurance company; and Mark Carney, the former central banker who now chairs Bloomberg L.P. — were eager to affirm their commitment to a vital global market.

And Xi sought to reinforce his dominance. Even the logistics of the event, including whether Xi would host it and last-minute invites that forced many attendees to rejig their schedules, were a “total power move,” according to one longtime China watcher.

But a new trade fight over green energy is about to open. Yellen is expected to say in a speech on Wednesday that Chinese exports could distort the market in a way that “hurts American firms and workers” and could damage the global economy. She is expected to make her second trip to China as Treasury secretary in the coming weeks.

China has poured billions into clean tech. The country spent more than $130 billion last year in the solar industry alone, according to the energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, which estimates that China will dominate that business for years.

The Biden administration has drawn criticism for its own green energy policies. The Inflation Reduction Act made available billions in federal subsidies to bolster domestic production of electric vehicles and other clean tech. That has angered European countries, who say that the incentives are pulling investment away from the continent to the U.S.

Beijing has been hitting back on trade. It filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization on Tuesday claiming that the Biden administration’s subsidies for domestic E.V. makers discriminated against Chinese companies.

Rob de Pruis, an official at a Canadian insurance industry trade body, warning that companies and governments are bracing for a repeat of last summer when record numbers of forest fires blanketed North America in smoke.

Donald Trump’s social media company is up again in premarket trading on Wednesday after its first day of trading.

Shares in Trump Media & Technology Group climbed as much as 59 percent on Tuesday despite choppy trading that forced a brief halt. The rally added billions in paper wealth to the former president’s fortunes as he faces huge legal bills and runs for president. Still, the company isn’t profitable and has tiny revenues and user numbers compared with other social media platforms.

Here are three things that have markets watchers buzzing:

  • At Tuesday’s close, Trump Media had a market capitalization of about $8 billion, making it more valuable than companies like Alaska Airlines and Western Union.

  • The company was trading at price-to-sales ratio of roughly 2,300, an eye-wateringly high valuation compared with peers like Reddit. The company had reported sales of $3.3 million in the first nine months of last year and recorded a loss of $49 million.

  • Trump Media’s stock has become one of the most expensive to short, according to S3 Partners, a data firm that tracks such trades.


  • Alibaba, the Chinese internet giant, abandoned plans to take its logistics business public in Hong Kong, four months after it scrapped an I.P.O. of its cloud unit. (WSJ)

  • International Paper is in talks to buy DS Smith for about $7.2 billion, setting up a potential bidding war with Mondi over the British packaging company. (Reuters)

  • “The U.S. Investors Caught in the Scrum Over TikTok” (NYT)


  • Andy Bechtolsheim, the billionaire co-founder of Sun Microsystems, agreed to be barred from serving as an executive or board member of a public company for five years after he was accused of insider trading. (Bloomberg)

  • “Tax the Rich Is Actually a Popular Bipartisan Stance, Poll Shows” (Bloomberg)

  • Could the Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against Apple put a chill on Big Tech’s stock buyback binge? (FT)

Best of the rest

  • Investors betting against crypto-linked stocks like MicroStrategy and Coinbase have lost almost $2 billion this year as Bitcoin has hit record levels. (Business Insider)

  • As President Biden has crusaded against carbon emissions, he’s also presided over an oil boom. (Axios)

  • “The War at Stanford” (The Atlantic)

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