What Is Important: Germany Dodges Recession, Google Antitrust Probe


Germany Misses Recession

Germany confirmed that its first-quarter gross domestic product rose only 0.1%. There was some excitement that the largest economy in Europe had dodged a recession, something its neighbors cannot claim. But the number was so perilously close to zero that calling Germany's predicament a recession is not far off the mark. However, the cloud does have a silver lining. Sentiment about business prospects in Germany did improve:

The Ifo Business Climate Index for industry and trade in Germany has risen again after two consecutive declines. The firms are clearly more satisfied with their current business situation than in the previous month. The outlook for future business is unchanged and slightly positive. The German economy remains on track in a challenging European environment.

Retailers Sue Visa, MasterCard

Several large retailers accuse MasterCard Inc. (NYSE: MA) and Visa Inc. (NYSE: V) of setting unfair fees that damage the retailers' sales prospects and margins while enriching the credit card companies. Bloomberg reports on the retailers' suit:

Target Corp. (TGT) and Macy's Inc. (M) joined with 15 other retailers in suing Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc. (MA) over credit-card and debit-card fees after dropping out of a multibillion-dollar settlement of a similar case.

The biggest U.S. payment card firms illegally restrained competition for interchange fees by setting default rates and imposing almost identical rules for accepting cards, the retailers said yesterday in a federal court complaint in New York.

In the previous antitrust suit pending in Brooklyn federal court, dozens of large retailers including Target and Macy's opposed a $7.25 billion proposed settlement, alleging it gave Visa and MasterCard too much freedom to raise rates in the future.

"Plaintiffs have paid and continue to pay significantly higher costs to accept Visa-branded and MasterCard-branded credit and debit cards than they would if the banks issuing such cards competed for merchant acceptance," lawyers for the retailers said in yesterday's complaint.

Google Faces FTC Charges

Just as Google Inc.'s (NASDAQ: GOOG) battle with European Union regulators has died down, the United States may bring antitrust charges against the company. According to Reuters:

U.S. regulators are in the early stages of an antitrust probe into whether Google Inc, the top player in Web display advertising, breaks antitrust law in how it handles some advertising sales, a source told Reuters on Thursday.

The source said that it was unlikely that the Federal Trade Commission had sent out civil investigative demands in relation to the probe, which would be the sign of a formal and more serious investigation.

The new line of inquiry focuses on tools acquired when Google bought display ad company DoubleClick in 2007; other firms which specialize in helping Web publishers sell ads to put on their websites are complaining to the FTC, the source said.

Filed under: 24/7 Wall St. Wire, Market Open Tagged: featured, GOOG, MA, V