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Department of Justice Antitrust Division pursues credit card companies

BY Allison Cerra

WASHINGTON — One week after the Senate failed to pass an amendment that would have delayed swipe-fee reform for an additional 12 months, the Department of Justice Antitrust Division reportedly is addressing anticompetitive practices related to credit cards.

The agency has submitted a final consent decree in its enforcement action against Visa and MasterCard, according to the Food Marketing Institute.

Swipe fees are charged by banks, which adhere to the fees set by card companies, to process debit card transactions. Swipe fees currently are 1% to 2% of each transaction and often are passed along to customers through higher prices of goods and services.

“This is just a first step, but a vital one, to help alleviate some of the card network restraints on FMI members’ ability to provide discounts to their customers," FMI president and CEO Leslie Sarasin said. "This enforcement action is focused on anticompetitive practices related to credit cards, and re-enforces the need for credit card transactions to be subject to the same reforms authored by [Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who introduced the Credit Card Fair Fee Act in 2009] related to debit cards. Visa and MasterCard have hundreds of pages of non-negotiable, take-it-or-leave-it network rules that have stifled and continue to stifle market competition.”

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Blogger announces release of Walgreens Infant Care Booklet

BY Michael Johnsen

LAKE WORTH, Fla. — According to a post Monday from extreme couponer and Walgreens fan Christie Hardcastle, American Baby magazine is shipping out a Walgreens Infant Care Booklet mailer to subscribers.

“I wrote about these being mailed out in February but it looks like some of you might be getting this mailer again!” blogged Hardcastle. The mailer contains coupons for Nursery Water and Earth’s Best baby food, among other products, Hardcastle reported.

Hardcastle’s site — Wild for Wags — features “information … on stretching your dollar when shopping at my [Hardcastle’s] favorite pharmacy, Walgreens.”

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May a mixed bag for retail sales

BY Allison Cerra

WASHINGTON — Retail spending for the month of May experienced a slight drop of 0.2% to $387.1 billion, though the advanced estimates noted that May sales were 7.7% higher than the year-ago period, the U.S. Census Bureau said Tuesday.

The government agency also reported that total sales for the March through May period were up 7.5% from the same period a year ago.

Across retail sectors, grocery stores during May continued on an upward trend, rising 1.7% to nearly $46.7 million, up from $45.9 million in April. Health and personal care stores gained traction after seeing a decline last month of 0.3% — the U.S. Census Bureau said May sales rose 1.3% to $22.8 million.

Although advanced estimates for pharmacies and drug stores are not included in the report, the U.S. Census Bureau reported a decline in sales to about $18.6 million in April, down from nearly $19.9 million in March.

Commenting on the sales results, the National Retail Federation said that the industry isn’t immune to other economic factors, such as employment rates and housing, and that lackluster sales do not come as a surprise to retailers.

"After a string of disappointing government reports relating to economic activity and employment, May’s retail report supports the idea of the economy hitting a soft patch," NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. "Though consumers are spending cautiously, we are not seeing them cut out new purchases completely, signaling there is a distinct appetite to spend if economic conditions let them."

NRF added that it expected sales to pick up again in time for the back-to-school season, which, according to a PriceGrabber survey, may start later this year.

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