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Third-quarter earnings season has picked up, with a number of companies posting earnings today before the opening bell and two tech giants set to report after the close.
When Q3 earnings kicked off a week ago, analysts estimated third-quarter earnings would come in 6.5% higher than the same quarter a year ago.
In afternoon trading Tuesday all three major index were sharply higher. The Dow Jones Industrial Average soared some 90 points by 2:30 p.m., the Standard & Poor's 500 Index climbed 11, and the Nasdaq jumped 33. That followed Monday's gains of 100.38 points, 16.78 points and 39.27 points, respectively.
With few economic releases scheduled for Tuesday, investors' focus was pinned on Washington. House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, and U.S. President Barack Obama continued to haggle over a fiscal cliff deal, with the president making a counter offer late Monday.
You all chimed in with lots of great comments, including some that questioned what I really had against prepaid cards, especially if they are "no-fee" cards and serve those with less-than-average wherewithal (wherever that descending measure is these days) who rely on them for everything from consumer transactions to bill paying and ATM access.
First of all, let me say that I think prepaid cards are good. They're not great, but I hope they get there.
But I want to talk about what's not great, and how to make prepaid cards better.
I told you about the interchange fees that are charged to merchants and how those end up being passed along to consumers. Maybe that's not such a big deal if we can quantify their additional cost on a per-item basis. All I'll say about that is, it adds up.
My problem with prepaid cards is what we can't see about them.
What's going on behind the scenes? Do they offer adequate protection to their users? Is the proliferation of them going to present some systemic risk? How should they be regulated?
Regulation? I know what some of you are thinking. We have too many regulations as it is, and the regulators are all asleep at the wheel anyway, so regulation is the problem not the answer.
I agree with you, but not exactly. You'll see what I mean.
It's about those prepaid cards, and the games that are being played with them that you may not know about.
Prepaid cards have lots of benefits, especially for the "unbanked."
These are the people who more or less may live paycheck to paycheck, or don't have jobs but need a "card" because both credit and debit cards are how we pay for most things these days.
A lot of people are rebelling, and rightfully so, against the higher and higher fees that banks are charging on checking accounts (and for all their other "services") and are turning to prepaid cards as an alternative means of paying for goods and services.
Now, American Express (NYSE: AXP) is partnering with Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) to offer Bluebird cards. The cards are being pushed through Wal-Mart stores and are ostensibly backed by American Express.
American Express? As if it's a bank. Wait a minute...
It is a bank.
That's because back on November 10, 2008, at the height of the credit crisis, American Express had to become a bank (actually a bank holding company) so it could take money from the Federal Reserve to stay alive.
You forgot that, didn't you?
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