Two credit card specialists -- First USA Inc. and MBNA Corp. - resisted the downdraft in the markets following last Friday's stronger-than-expected jobs report.
Most bank stocks were dragged down by the rest of the market in a two day rout, but these two companies posted modest gains in share price between Thursday and Monday's close.
Their rise was especially impressive coming on the heels of a new product unveiling by AT&T Universal Card, a big competitor for credit card market share, said Moshe A. Orenbuch, analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.
Analysts said investors in the credit card banks may have been reacting to the positive report itself, and ignoring the inflationary fears it stirred up in the bond and stock markets.
Rate Sensitivity Explained
"I guess there's a tension between two issues - interest rates and the economy," said Gary Gordon, of PaineWebber, who was asked to speculate on why stock in credit card companies would do well when they are perceived as being interest rate sensitive.
"If jobs are growing, presumably there's a better chance for credit card debt to grow, and .a better chance the loans will not default," he said.
A look at the performance of Advanta Corp. in the same two-day period, suggests that something other than bullishness about credit cards may have immunized MBNA and First USA from the market plague.
Advanta usually moves in tandem with the other two specialists. But Friday and Monday its "A" stock suffered a modest decline on the job news, while its "B" shares dropped 3.9%, from $34.875, to $33.50.
Some analyst said a visit May 4-5 by about 15 institutional investors to the impressive Delaware facilities of First USA and MBNA, hosted by Goldman Sachs & Co., may have offset the impact of the jobs news.
"Everyone walked away feeling good about the business," said Richard S. Goleniewski, the Goldman analyst who follows consumer finance companies.
He said the visit helped drive home to investors that "things are not slowing down in terms of account and receivables growth."
As the week progressed, Advanta bounced back, underscoring that investors remained bullish on the credit card business and saw Advanta's decline as a buying opportunity. Advanta's A shares were trading Thursday afternoon at $40.25, up $2.25 since Monday's close, while its B shares were at $35.75, also up $2.25.
MBNA and First USA were trading at $24.875 and $43.50, respectively, up 12.5 cents each since Monday.
Longer Term, Gloom
While the group may have dodged a bullet last week, some say the increases can't last forever.
Indeed, one analyst said the stocks may be overdue for a correction.
The three companies, had risen an average of 34% in March and April, to approach price peaks last seen in the early winter. That prompted Kristina Andersson of Smith Barney to admit she is a "little nervous" that a selloff may be in the cards.
Mortgage banks go a boost Thursday from news that Chemical Banking Corp. had agreed to purchase Margaretten Financial Corp. for $330 million in cash.
Especially strong were American Residential Holdings, up $1.50, to $18.75, and North American Mortgage Corp., up 75 cents, to $25.25.
Banks were mixed on a day that bond prices firmed and the Dow Jones industrial average rose 23.80, to 3,652.84.
Gainers included Barnett Banks Inc., up 87.5 cents, to $45.375, and First Chicago Corp., up 75 cents, to $52.75.
Bankers Trust New York Corp. was off $1.875, to $64.25. First Bank Systems Inc. slid $1.125, to $34.75.