Will Walmart Stop Accepting Visa Cards in the U.S.?

Visa (V) and Walmart (WMT) , which have long had a contentious relationship, are openly quarreling in Canada and analysts are unsure whether the disagreement will spill into the U.S.

Earlier this month, Walmart Canada said that Visa's credit card fees were too high and the retailer would no longer take Visa as payment for customer purchases north of the U.S. border. Visa payments won't be accepted in the Thunder Bay, Ont., Walmart store as of July 18 and the policy will be rolled out to its 404 other stores in Canada afterward.

"Following an evaluation of credit card transaction fees in Canada and the rest of the world, we have concluded the fees applied to Visa credit card purchases remain unacceptably high," Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Visa and Walmart have been unable to agree on an acceptable fee for Visa transactions."

Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods estimates that Canada accounts for about $3 billion in volume, or 0.1% of Visa's total global payments. 

"It remains to be seen whether or not this spills over to the U.S.," a KBW analyst wrote in a report last week. "From Walmart's perspective, while Visa likely offered very favorable rates, representatives from the company at public conferences have made it no secret their desire to see card acceptance costs decline materially from current levels."

While the "volume implications" from the Canada dispute would be "fairly immaterial," Keefe Bruyette is concerned about Walmart expanding the Visa ban in its home country. The firm rates Visa's stock as an outperform with a target price of $95.21.

San Francisco-based Visa said Walmart's decision would have a "negative impact" on "loyal shoppers across Canada." 

The discount retailer "made this business decision despite Visa offering one of the lowest rates available to any merchant in the country," Visa said in a statement. "We are disappointed that Walmart chose to put their own financial interests ahead of their own consumers' choice."

While Visa CEO Charles Scharf had expressed optimism about its relationship with Walmart and subsidiary Sam's Club on a first-quarter earnings call, this isn't the first time the the two companies have quarreled over processing issues and fees.

In May, Walmart sued Visa for forcing it to allow customers to sign when making purchases with their chip-enabled debit cards, while Walmart says that using a unique PIN number is more secure. 

In 2014, Walmart sued Visa for more than $5 billion, saying the company's card fees were unreasonably high. In 2003, the retailer was involved in a class-action lawsuit filed against Visa and MasterCard (MA) that alleged they were forcing merchants to accept both debit and credit cards. 

"Merchants benefit from acceptance of electronic payments because they receive rapid payment for goods, and protection against common forms of fraud," Jason Oxman, head of the Electronic Transactions Association, which represents more than 500 companies offering electronic payment services, said in an email. 

Credit card issuer American Express  (AXP)  has had its problems with branded-card agreements, too.

Warehouse retailer Costco  (COST)  said last year it was ending its 16-year relationship with American Express and began accepting Visa card issued by Citigroup (C)  this week. Walmart dropped its co-branded deal with Discover in favor of MasterCard in 2014.

Visa stock has climbed 0.4% this year to $77.83, better than competitor MasterCard, whose stock fell 2.5%, and American Express, which dropped 10.6%. All three, however, lagged the broader S&P 500, which jumped 1.92%. 

EXCLUSIVE LOOK INSIDE: Visa, Costco, and Citigroup are holdings in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS charitable trust portfolio. Want to be alerted before he buys or sells the stocks? Learn more now.

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