Most of the news from Russia in recent months has been a cause for concern for Visa (NYSE: V ) and MasterCard (NYSE: MA ) -- but the news announced Friday means big things for these two giants in the payments industry.
The troubling trend
As the conflict in Russia and Ukraine heated up, the U.S. government called for sanctions across a variety of industries. Two majorly affected companies in the financial space were Visa and MasterCard. Bloomberg reported in March that Russian-based Bank Rossiya -- which was targeted by the U.S. in sanctions -- noted its cards were no longer serviced by MasterCard and Visa "without any warning."
Just days later the actions intensified as Businessweek reported with Visa and MasterCard stopping the processing of certain transactions in Russia, the head of the largest bank in the country said Moscow could launch its own homegrown payment system within six months in an effort to retaliate.
In addition, the Russian parliament introduced legislation that wouldn't allow for any payment systems based outside of the country itself. Businessweek suggested Russia was preparing "for life without Visa and MasterCard."
But the conflict reached its height the first week of May when Vladimir Putin himself signed a law that required Visa and MasterCard to pay a staggering $3.8 billion security deposit to the Russian government if they wanted to continue operations in the country.
All of this led to the CEO of MasterCard, Ajay Banga, saying on the latest earnings call:
There are provisions (in the legislation) there that I believe would create serious complications for the way that we can operate in (Russia). Russia will be tough to work through.
The sigh of relief
Yet this began to change this week as the finance minister in Russia, Anton Siluanov, suggested he confidently felt a "reasonable solution" would be reached with Visa and MasterCard. He said the reason behind this was simple: "We can't quit using these systems, as more than 90% of customers use them."
But the biggest story came today, as news broke Russia had come to an agreement with Visa and MasterCard to allow the payment companies to continue their operations in Russia. Visa's general director for Russia, Andrew Torre, said simply, "MasterCard and Visa will continue business in Russia."
And the aforementioned Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said MasterCard and Visa "are ready to work within the framework of the new law, and we are ready to cooperate with them and will find a solution."
What it means to investors
There are two critical takeaways for investors as a result of the reached agreement between the firms in the payments industry and the Russian government.
First, it's nice to know Visa and MasterCard will hold onto the $3.8 billion that would've undoubtedly hit their profits beginning July 1. But it's also critical to see while just 39% of the $8.4 billion in revenue at MasterCard was generated in United States, only 2% of its revenue came from Russia, so even the suspending of operations there wouldn't have been devastating.
But secondly, and more importantly, it must be noted it isn't every day when two businesses are able to reach agreements with the Russian government which serve their best interests and not that of the government.
As a result, even with all the speculation surrounding the future of payments industry, this is one more example of the staggering power Visa and MasterCard have not only in the U.S. but across the world.
The one thing that keeps them up at night
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