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Bank of America Pegs Share of Merchant Settlement at $738 Million

By Andrew R. Johnson Bank of America Corp. (BAC) will pay $738 million as part of a pending multi-billion settlement of merchant lawsuits over Visa Inc. (V) and MasterCard Inc. (MA) transaction fees. The Charlotte, N.C., lender, which disclosed its share of the settlement Thursday in its Form 10-Q filed with regulators, is one of the numerous banks named in the seven-year-old lawsuits alleging Visa, MasterCard and the banks conspired to fix interchange fees at arbitrarily high levels. Visa and MasterCard set the fees, but they are collected by card-issuing banks like Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) on each transaction. As part of settlements announced last month in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, Visa, MasterCard and the banks agreed to pay a combined $6.6 billion to merchants and temporarily reduce interchange fees by an amount equal to $1.2 billion. Visa and MasterCard each have agreements under which their bank clients are responsible for portions of their share of the settlement payments. Bank of America is the second-largest issuer of Visa and MasterCard credit cards, according to 2011 data from the Nilson Report, a payments-industry newsletter. It said $539 million of its amount will be paid from proceeds Visa has set aside in a litigation escrow. The escrow is funded by Visa's Class B shares, which are owned by Bank of America and other U.S. banks. The settlements, which require court approval, have sparked criticism from retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), Target Corp. (TGT) and trade groups that are plaintiffs in the lawsuits. They argue the settlements do not fix problems they see in how interchange fees are set and will force them to give up their rights to sue the payment networks in the future. Visa and MasterCard have maintained the deals will benefit merchants by allowing them to band together to negotiate interchange rates and giving them the ability to surcharge customers who pay with credit cards, a practice the payment networks previously banned. Bank of America's settlement share was first reported by Bloomberg News Thursday. The bank's shares were up 3.8% at $7.45 in recent trading Friday, on a day of broader market gains. Write to Andrew R. Johnson at andrew.r.johnson@dowjones.com Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires

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