First Data Corp. managed to soothe some investor jitters last week at its first meeting for analysts.

The skittishness centered on whether the transaction processing giant will meet its annual growth goal of 20% or better amid the run up in credit card delinquencies, chargeoffs, and bankruptcies.

"Everyone had become worried about the number of cards being issued," said Goldman, Sachs & Co. analyst Gregory Gould, one of about 200 who attended the meeting in New York. First Data management stressed "it's more than a one-trick pony," he said.

Speaking for First Data were Henry C. Duques, chairman and chief executive officer; Walter M. Hoff, executive vice president; and Lee Adrean, chief financial officer, among others.

They said the Hackensack, N.J.-based company will not be affected by factors hurting other card processors. They cited continued strong demand for ancillary credit scoring, fraud protection, and credit collection products and services.

In an interview, a First Data official, who asked not to be identified, said "a lot of the problems in the industry are really opportunities for us."

Lehman Brothers analyst Patrick Burton said First Data's management "laid out a good strategy for maintaining their margins, and maybe even tweaking them up a little."

He reaffirmed his "buy" rating and kept his earnings per share estimate at $1.60 for 1997.

The company's stock price rose $1.625 Wednesday, the day after the presentation, to $39.375. Friday afternoon it was at $38.625, down 87.5 cents.

At the meeting, First Data announced a relatively small acquisition- Consumer Credit Association, a Houston-based credit bureau with information on 125 million consumers. Terms were not disclosed.

The analysts were more interested in probing the First Data leaders' views on Citicorp, which is widely expected to reenter the U.S. merchant processing business. Citicorp sold that part of its business in 1992. First Data eventually acquired the business, when it was called Card Establishment Services.

The response was that Citicorp is seen as a potential competitor and even "had tried to hire some First Data people already," Mr. Burton said.

The speculation was heightened last month when Citicorp hired Denis Calvert, formerly of Verifone Inc., to head a new retail and merchant services division.

Whatever Citicorp's intentions may be, First Data officials "didn't seem worried," Mr. Gould said. They expected it would be costly for Citibank to come back in, particularly if it acquired another processor, such as National Processing Inc. or First USA Paymentech.

Even if Citicorp decided to start a company from scratch-the bank operates an international merchant processing business-it would still be "a lot of work and expensive," Mr. Gould said.

"If Citi wants to get back into it from scratch, they are welcome to join the fray," said the First Data official.

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