Associates First Capital Corp.'s agreement this week to purchase J.C. Penney Co.'s entire Visa and MasterCard portfolio illustrates a reversal of fortunes in the credit card business.

Associates, a Dallas-based subsidiary of Ford Motor Co., has been one of the most aggressive acquirers of bank card accounts. Last year it bought $670 million of receivables from Norwest Corp. and $343 million from Comerica Inc.

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