Chase Manhattan Corp.'s credit card business is not for sale, says a top executive, despite speculation that a significant investor might be out to break up the company's various business units.
The investor, Michael F. Price, president of Heine Securities Corp., recently acquired 6.1% of Chase's shares to become its largest stockholder. He has a history of targeting companies viewed as undervalued, and his investment ignited speculation about his intentions with Chase, one of the nation's top 10 credit card banks.
John A. Ward 3d, executive vice president and bank card executive, said that Mr. Price's investment "was great news, because it means that we are worth more money." He added that Chase has not discussed the possibility of selling or spinning off the credit card business.
Furthermore, Mr. Ward implied that it would be illogical for Chase to unload his division, because "credit cards are Chase's largest and most important business."
For this reason, too, analysts are skeptical about the possibility of Chase emulating Signet Banking Corp., which formed and spun off a subsidiary, Capital One Financial Corp., last year.
But the analysts seem to agree that Chase will probably market card products more aggressively after the latest wake-up call.
"Some people might say that Chase should sell its credit card business," said George M. Salem, an analyst with Gerard Klauer Mattison & Co. "But, more likely, there will be increased pressure on John Ward to get more business and eliminate attrition."
For his part, Mr. Ward believes the credit card unit has had some great successes over the past six months and is right on track.
"We have demonstrated to management that we can play this game," he said.
During his nearly two years at the helm of credit cards, Mr. Ward has launched a number of innovative programs that many people believe have awakened what had been a slumbering giant.
Still, Chase is not growing as fast as its competitors. According to The Nilson Report, an industry newsletter, Chase fell from being the fifth- largest card business in terms of receivables and accounts in 1993 to eighth largest in 1994. At yearend, Chase had $10.4 billion in outstanding balances and 13.3 million accounts.
Mr. Ward's accomplishments include cobranded programs with Nynex Corp., British Airways, and a rumored deal with Texaco. But another product for which Chase received a lot of attention has not fulfilled expectations, analysts say.
The Reward Consolidator, a line of credit aimed at luring cardholders' balances away from the major rebate programs, has garnered 28,100 accounts and $72.5 million in receivables since it was introduced in February 1994.
Mr. Ward conceded that the product generated a lot of media attention - "maybe more than I wanted, because people expected big things." Still Mr. Ward defends the product, saying that it has taken a lot of business away from some of the biggest rebate programs and that it has performed better than Chase expected.
Mr. Ward is considering attaching a credit card to Reward Consolidator, which is now a simple line of credit. Rather than being used for new purchases, the line can be drawn down to pay for purchases made with other credit cards.
The card linked to the line of credit would be a standard Visa or MasterCard.
"We will continue to test this product," said Mr. Ward.