Visa stock tumbles after report of DOJ antitrust probe

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Visa’s stock price slid Friday as the feds reportedly probed the finance giant’s dominance in the debit card market.

Shares in the payment processor tumbled as much as 5.3 percent to $208.89 after The Wall Street Journal reported that the US Justice Department’s antitrust division has the company in its crosshairs.

Investigators are examining whether Visa prevents merchants from routing debit card transactions through rival payment networks that often charge cheaper fees, according to the paper, which cited unnamed people familiar with the matter.

The feds are reportedly weighing whether Visa is using these practices to maintain its grip on an industry that rakes in billions of dollars in fees a year.

Visa’s total payment volume totaled $8.9 trillion in 2019, according to its latest annual report — nearly twice as much as Mastercard, the market’s second-largest player.

Merchants accepting debit card purchases have reportedly complained for years that they often cannot use smaller networks, such as NYCE or Shazam, when a card bears Visa or Mastercard’s name.

That often forces businesses to shell out higher transaction fees than they would pay if they were able to use other options, the Journal reported.

Federal investigators looking into the issue have largely asked questions about online debit-card payments, though they have also asked about issues with in-store transactions, the report says.

They’re also looking for information about the financial incentives Visa gives banks that issue cards on its network and whether those incentives encourage banks not to enable payments to be routed through other networks, one source told the Journal.

Visa and the Justice Department both declined to comment Friday.

The Journal’s report came less than two months after Visa called off its $5.3 billion acquisition of financial-technology startup Plaid amid antitrust scrutiny.

The companies decided to drop the deal rather than fight a November lawsuit that the Justice Department filed to block it, alleging that Visa was trying to quash an ascendant rival.

Some 200 million bank accounts are reportedly connected to Plaid’s technology, which lets developers aggregate consumer spending data. The feds said Plaid was planning to build a payments network that could have competed with Visa by enabling consumers to pay merchants directly from their bank accounts.

Visa CEO Al Kelly viewed the Plaid acquisition as an “insurance policy” to protect the company’s US debit business, the DOJ alleged. Visa disputed the feds’ argument, saying Plaid was not in fact a competitor.

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