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Double Whammy: Bank-Card Companies are Next

 March 24, 2008 09:59 AM
 


Aside from Visa (V) or Mastercard (MA), it doesn't seem as if the credit card issuers have been getting the attention they deserve. With all of the panic and concern surrounding the brokers and builders, perhaps plates are too full to take on any more. Yet, I have been thinking about how easy credit policies made available for housing created a monstrous economic problem. Even so, it does seems plausible that companies issuing collateralized debt could eventually see a recovery if the underlying property can be liquidated for some portion of its worth. But, what happens as defaults rise on credit/bank card debt, which is only backed by the full faith and credit of the borrower?

[Related -Why it’s time to sell Microsoft]

During the past few months, investors have pummeled Discover Financial (DFS) and others lenders over fear of rising defaults and delinquencies. Here is an example of the recent news and behavior of credit companies caused by the subprime problems (2/12/08 Washington Post):

The subprime mortgage meltdown has spilled into the credit card industry in other ways. Banks have reported steep write-offs related to the mortgage mess, and their stock prices have plummeted.

"Credit cards historically have been a very profitable segment for the banking industry, so what they're doing is trying to squeeze customers as much as they can, particularly for accounts they don't see as profitable or as high risk," said Curtis Arnold, founder of CardRatings.com, a consumer resource on credit cards.

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Bank of America (BAC), for instance, notified some customers last month that their rates would increase as a result of a periodic review of their credit risk. Chase (JPM) last fall increased the rate paid by new customers of its Freedom card. Bank of America and Chase are also among some banks that have increased ATM fees for other banks' customers to as much as $3. Capital One (COF) has changed its cash-advance fee for new customers from 19 percent to 23 percent.

Beyond the current economic crisis, there is an even more troubling issue confronting the industry with the pending legislation known as H.R. 5244: (MSNBC Consumerman)

‘The Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights Act of 2008, known as H.R. 5244, would protect cardholders from arbitrary interest rate increases and unfair fees. Maloney, who chairs the House Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee, is quick to point out that her bill does not have any price controls. It does not cap rates or fees.

Interestingly, it looks as though some analysts are continuing to recommend a BUY rating on COF and other names within the sector and are oblivious to the mountain of problems facing bank card companies, aka: The Double Whammy: (Yahoo/AP)

Amid difficulties with mortgages in the U.S. and unloading corporate debt, banks are competing more than ever for market share in their core business — deposits. A large source of profit, banks are introducing newer, higher-yielding accounts to attract more customers' cash.

The grease that keeps the wheels turning for these companies is capital. In times when money is easily available, bank-card companies utilize their customer accounts to lend money to the credit card customers. As credit card balances rise, new capital is needed to meet the consumer demand.

In order to bring in fresh capital, brokers such as Lehman (LEH), JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs (GS) raise money through note, bond and stock offerings.


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