Citicorp's joint marketing program with Ford Motor Co. helped put the nation's No. 1 banking company back on the credit card growth track in the first half, according to data compiled by RAM Research Corp.

Already the largest credit card issuer by a wide margin, Citicorp increased its card-loan portfolio by 1.41% in the six months, to $36 billion, according to the Frederick, Md., research firm.

Growth in Citicorp's portfolio had been stalled since 1991 as many cardholders deserted for competitors' offerings.

RAM president Robert B. McKinley attributed the comeback to the February launch of the Citibank-Ford Visa card. Competing with General Motors' MasterCard issued by Household Bank, the Ford card provides a 5% rebate on purchases, which can be applied toward a new car.

The Ford Visa "has more than offset" Citicorp's attrition, Mr. McKinley said, "although it's not a gangbusters program."

Nonbanks Keep Gaining

Also of note in RAM's latest top-10 ranking were continued gains by nonbanks.

MBNA Corp., at $9.9 billion in receivables, jumped past Chase Manhattan Corp. into third place, trailing only Citicorp and the Discover program of Dean Witter, Discover & Co. Issued by a subsidiary bank, the Discover card had $18.1 billion in outstandings.

MBNA, which was spun off by MNC Financial Inc. in 1991, has found a winning formula in affinity cards, which play on the loyalties of generally affluent consumers who belong to associations or share an interest.

Household Bank, powered by the General Motors card it unveiled five months prior to the Ford Visa launch, streaked past Chemical Banking Corp. into eighth place.

While each of the top three grew, Chase's portfolio held steady at $9.8 billion. Mr. McKinley said Chase was slow to respond to price competition but has been more aggressive lately, with such offerings as a 9.4% introductory rate that is good through August 1994.

Temporary Shrinkage

Chemical's portfolio was the only one in the top 10 to shrink - to $5.77 billion from $5.78 billion at the beginning of the year. A Chemical spokeswoman said growth has resumed since June 30.

Household Bank, a subsidiary of Household International, was the fastest-growing big issuer, gaining 23.91% in the six months, to $7.1 billion.

But it didn't climb as far up the ranking as preliminary data provided by RAM and Household had indicated. Referring to that data, an Aug. 5 American Banker feature on Household said the unit ranked fifth among MasterCard and Visa issuers - a group that excludes Discover.

The final tally for the first half showed that the AT&T Universal card, issued by a unit of Synovus Financial Corp., still had a slim lead over Household, and that BankAmerica Corp. showed unexpected strength in the first half, growing 1.16% to maintain its sixth-place ranking behind First Chicago Corp.

The latest estimates by Household and AT&T suggest the two are in a dead heat in outstandings, with $7.3 billion.

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