Concern over worsening global economic prospects prompted selling of credit card issuers' shares Friday in a down market.
MBNA Corp. dropped 8.4%, to $36 a share, after Morgan Stanley Dean Witter downgraded the Wilmington, Del., banking company to an "outperform" rating from "strong buy." Morgan cited the ill effects of a slowing economy. "The risk-reward of investing in credit card companies is not as strong as it once was," said Kenneth Posner, an analyst at Morgan Stanley. "If people start to look at GDP growth, they are going to start to worry about credit risk."
Other credit card issuers also slid. Capital One Financial Corp. fell 7.6%, to $66.3125, and Providian Financial Corp. fell 10.87%, to $118.9375.
But barring a serious economic crisis, Mr. Posner said, there is no reason yet to worry about widespread problems among the card issuers.
"People just need to buy more carefully or take profits if they have a large position," he said. Credit card stocks "made a good run over the past six to nine months and may be heading for a bit of a lull."
Overall, financial stocks followed the market downward Friday as companies, including a bank, announced they would miss earnings forecasts.
Despite a report released Friday morning showing the lowest jobless rate in 30 years, the Nasdaq fell 3.2%, to 3,361, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 1.2%, at 10,597.
The American Banker index of the top 50 banks closed down 3.48%, at 591.6, and the index of the 225 largest banks was down 4.01%, to 793.3.
The unemployment rate declined to 3.9%, surprising Wall Street. Economists had forecast that it would remain at 4.1%. Gerard Cassidy, an analyst at Tucker Anthony Capital Markets, said the surprising employment numbers would force investors to reevaluate whether the Fed is finished raising short-term interest rates.
Mr. Cassidy, along with analysts at Advest Inc. and Friedman Billings Ramsey & Co., downgraded Hudson United Bancorp on Friday. The Mahwah, N.J., company had warned Thursday that its third-quarter earnings would miss analysts' projections. It said its earnings would be 50 to 52 cents per share; the consensus had been 63 cents per share.
Hudson United's stock was unchanged Friday, and analysts began to speculate about a possible sale.
"The company may put itself up for sale. We are looking at the company as in play or at least interested in finding an acquirer," said Gary Townsend, an analyst at Friedman Billings Ramsey & Co.
Mr. Townsend said no one may yet be actively pursuing Hudson but that the company is interested in finding a partner. It had struck a deal to merge with New York's Dime Bancorp, but the deal fell apart when North Fork Bancorp began a hostile tender offer in an effort - also later thwarted - to take over Dime.
Mr. Cassidy agreed that, despite the earnings warning, Hudson is a strong candidate for purchase.
"What came out yesterday was a surprise to everyone," Mr. Cassidy said, "but Hudson was very straightforward about its problems over the next three to six months. But there weren't any asset-quality problems, and that is a good indicator."
Mr. Cassidy said Hudson is a good target for an acquisition-minded banking company looking to expand into the Middle Atlantic and southern New England states.