The monoline credit card specialists continued to set the industry pace in their second-quarter earnings statements.

MBNA Corp., Capital One Financial Corp., Providian Financial Corp., and Metris Cos. all equaled or beat estimates. All reported vibrant account growth and, like their commercial bank counterparts, got big boosts from fee income.

The monolines are prospering "at a time when more and more of the traditional card issuers are challenged by tough competition, expectations of shrinking return on assets, and saturation," said Robert G. Hottensen Jr., a managing director at Goldman, Sachs & Co., New York.

MBNA, the biggest of the specialists and second in the card-issuing business to Citicorp, had net income of $172 million, or 32 cents a share, 24% better than a year earlier. Wilmington, Del.-based MBNA has increased earnings by more than 20% for 21 consecutive quarters.

Managed receivables grew 22%, to $52.7 billion.

MBNA has expanded abroad and continues to focus on affinity groups, which tend to attract relatively affluent customers with good credit.

"We continue to acquire high-quality groups, whether in the U.S., Canada, or the U.K," said Richard K. Struthers, senior vice chairman of MBNA.

The company is also reaping benefits from noncore businesses such as mortgages and insurance.

MBNA added 4.2 million new accounts in the second quarter and secured 221 new affinity endorsements during the first half.

Chargeoffs of 4.42% in the quarter rose from 3.96% a year earlier but remained well below the industry norm. Fitch IBCA said the average chargeoff rate for June was 6.63%.

Capital One of Falls Church, Va., announced record second-quarter earnings of $66.9 million, or 96 cents a share. The analysts' consensus forecast was 94 cents, according to Boston-based First Call Corp. Noninterest income rose 50%, to $253 million.

Managed loans were up $967 million for the quarter, to $15 billion, and 914,000 additional accounts brought its total to 13.6 million.

The company said it spent $86 million on marketing, which it considers a strong suit, up from $75 million in the first quarter. Chargeoffs fell to 5.91% from 6.36% a year earlier.

Capital One is "starting to benefit from getting their losses under control," said James Shanahan, a partner in the Newark, Del., office of Business Dynamics Consulting Inc. "They have been benefiting from that for a couple of quarters now."

Capital One also runs a cellular telephone business, America One, and is expanding in other directions. This month it announced a deal to buy Summit Acceptance Corp. of Dallas, a subprime automobile finance company.

Providian of San Francisco reported net income of $63 million, or 65 cents a share, a 38% improvement. Providian surpassed the consensus estimate of 62 cents a share. Fee-based revenue rose 120%, to $218 million.

"Rapid, profitable growth in our unbanked business and strong margin improvement in our core portfolio-along with outstanding growth in our fee- based products and successful integration of the recently acquired portfolios-have led to another record quarter," said Shailesh J. Mehta, chairman and chief executive officer.

Providian's $11.5 billion of card receivables grew 24% since the second quarter of 1997.

Metris' income of $12.4 million for the quarter, or 62 cents a share, was up 28%.

The St. Louis Park, Minn., issuer added more than 650,000 fee-paying customers, including its own cardholders and those of other issuers. Metris provides a cardholder registration service to customers of BankAmerica Corp. and Household International. It offers warranty and price protection to customers of PNC Bank Corp.

Managed loans grew 83% from a year earlier, to $3.9 billion. Metris attributed its high chargeoff rate of 10.6%, up from 9% a year earlier, to its focus on people with lower incomes and less-established credit histories.

Card fees, interchange, and other credit card income increased 64%, to $58 million, which experts said was indicative of how the specialist lenders have been finding new ways to maintain income gains.

"The strength of the so-called monolines is coming from areas in the noncommodity parts of the business," said Mr. Hottensen. "Not only are the companies meeting or exceeding Wall Street's expectations, but they are using the money to invest in other businesses."

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