Visa’s Ups and Downs

May 4, 2012

The Official Merchant Services Blog takes a look at Visa’s wild ride between May 2 and May 3. In the midst of a very active first quarter of 2012, Visa’s earnings report came in. The San Francisco based credit card giant then took a ride on a roller coaster in the span of two days after the report was released.

The Up Vote

The company had good news to report on May 2: Visa said Wednesday that its profit for the first three months of the year was up 30 percent from the year before, primarily because credit card use rose in the United States and overseas. Bloomberg broke down some key statistics from the report in their story here: “The company said Americans rang up 12 percent more on their charge cards for the quarter. Debit card use grew by only 4 percent to $284 million, however, the slowest growth in a year.”

So the boost in Visa profits is tied to an increase in the use of credit cards in the first three months of the year. But it appears the Durbin Amendment, financial reform legislation designed to address problems with swipe debit fees, has slowed down debit card use. As the Bloomberg article reports, the Durbin Amendment appears to be having an impact on profits: “Banks have eliminated some debit card rewards programs since October, when the government limited the fees banks can charge stores for card transactions.”

The profit breakdown for the quarter paints a very rosy picture. Visa’s net income was $1.3 billion, or $1.60 per share. Wall Street was expecting $1.51. Revenue rose 15 percent to $2.6 billion. Wall Street was expecting $2.48 billion.

The Down Turn

And then the roller coaster ride took a dip. Bloomberg reported the next day, May 3, that Visa stock took a decline based on the details of a U.S. Antitrust Probe into Visa’s Debit Strategy. The article states: “Visa Inc., the payments network that has lost market share amid new debit-card rules, slid as much as 4.5 percent in extended trading after disclosing a U.S. antitrust probe into the firm’s pricing and strategy.”

Visa adjusted the network’s fee structure to defend its leading market share after the Durbin Amendment took effect in October. On March 13, the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division issued a civil investigative demand asking for information about Visa’s debit strategy. Bloomberg quotes Visa Chief Executive Officer Joseph W. Saunders as saying in a conference call: “We are confident our actions are appropriate and that our response to the DOJ supports that.”

According to Saunders Visa has received four other requests for information from the Justice Department since 2007, and all have been resolved with Visa’s full cooperation.

The Durbin Factor

The Visa news comes after recent announcement from MasterCard, which stated that their own first-quarter profit increased 21 percent to $682 million. Like Visa, MasterCard’s profits also beat Wall Street estimates.

Speculation suggests that the hard cap on Debit Card Swipe fees imposed by the Durbin Amendment from October 2011 may have helped MasterCard take some market share away from Visa. MasterCard has been winning deals to handle processing of debit transactions according to the company’s Chief Financial Officer Martina Hund-Mejean.

Bloomberg quotes Hund Mejean as saying in a conference call to analysts: “In every quarter we’re going after business very surgically and opportunistically. You can see those results in our numbers.”

And according to Tien-tsin Huang, a JP Morgan Chase & Co. analyst in a May 1 research note, Bank of America Corp. — the biggest debit-card issuer and catalyst of post-Durbin media frenzy — switched to MasterCard.

Visa’s Fees Bite Back

Visa changed its debit-card fees in April, creating new fees like the Fixed Acquirer Network Fee (FANF) in an attempt to create incentives for merchants to route more transactions on the company’s network. The fees, which had been variable were broken into various components. To read more about those fees, you can CLICK HERE to see Host Merchant Services‘ own coverage of the April fees. The Bloomberg article suggests that Bank of America switched to MasterCard in reaction to the new Visa fees and MasterCard’s own surgical strike against Visa’s market share.

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