NEW YORK – In what can be considered a victory for both camps the verdict is finally in regarding the government’s antitrust suit against credit card giants VISA U.S.A. and MasterCard International Inc. U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones has ruled that the two credit card companies, which control 75% of the $1.3 trillion market, must end their practice of barring member banks from distributing rivals’ credit cards. According to Jones’ 157-page ruling, government antitrust lawyers succeeded in proving that the companies’ exclusionary rule and other practices “have harmed consumers and should be abolished”. However, Jones did not order VISA and MasterCard to change their governing structure, which the government also sought to break. “The court finds that the government has failed to prove that the governance structures of the Visa and MasterCard associations have resulted in a significant adverse effect on competition or consumer welfare,” wrote Jones. In a statement released after the verdict, VISA spokesperson Kelly Presta said, “Visa is pleased with the judge’s decision on dual governance. However, we are obviously disappointed with the judge’s decision on Visa U.S.A.’s bylaw that applies to American Express and Discover. We are dismayed that the Court has seen fit to change the structure of the business with untested remedies and unknown consequences.” Meanwhile American Express Company Chairman/CEO Kenneth I. Chenault has announced plans to “resume conversations with a number of banks-now free to make a choice- about possible card-issuing ventures.” With the shifting winds of change, experts have already started speculating how the ruling will impact claims by U.S. retailers, including Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., that Visa and MasterCard have abused their control of the credit card industry to dominate the market for debit cards. It is estimated that the class-action case could cost the credit card giants $26 billion in damages.

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