Investors are shrugging off the caution flag Moody's Investors Service raised last week when it said skyrocketing delinquencies might prompt it to downgrade a Banc One Corp. credit card-backed security.
The investors said there is every reason to believe that the Columbus, Ohio, bank will shore up the portfolio and avert a crisis of confidence that might affect the rest of the asset-backed market.
"Banks have shown they will do almost anything to keep investor confidence in their securities," said Thomas Zimmerman, head of asset- backed research at Prudential Securities.
Last week Moody's Investors Service placed on review $2.66 billion in securities backed by Banc One receivables, noting the chargeoffs rose 66% in 12 months to 9.34%. If carried out, it would be the first downgrade ever for securities backed by credit cards, investors said.
A Banc One spokesperson said the bank plans to meet with rating agency officials later this week.
The securities were sold to investors from 1994 to 1996, and represent part of a huge market that enables banks and credit card specialists to fund growth in credit card lending. Last year $47.8 billion in securities backed by credit cards were issued, according to Securities Data Co.
Moody's put Banc One's AAA and A2-rated portfolio under review, noting its chargeoffs were well above the average chargeoff rate in Moody's index of securitized credit card portfolios of 6.07%.
Analysts said Banc One can repair the portfolio by replacing troubled credit card loans with others that have better payment histories. Mercantile Bancorp and Chase Manhattan Corp. did that when their securitized credit card portfolios ran into similar troubles a year ago.
The news came the same week Banc One announced it would buy credit card specialist First USA Inc., leading some investors to speculate that First USA's loans could be used to bolster the ailing portfolio.
Robert Wang, portfolio manager at Bankers Trust New York Corp.'s asset management division, called Moody's action "quite significant," but said he expects Banc One will quickly prop up its portfolio.
Those who follow the markets say they wouldn't be surprised if rating agencies consider downgrading other portfolios, if the rise in chargeoffs continues.
Should chargeoffs rise another 3% in the Moody's index, people may start questioning the wisdom of these investments, said Thomas Cassidy, attorney at Thacher, Proffitt & Wood.
Even if Banc One's securities decline further, investors are unlikely to lose their principal because the securities come with self-destruct mechanisms that automatically pay investors if the portfolio deteriorates too far. In the case of Banc One, deterioration doesn't appear bad enough to have caused early payment.
If the deal were to pay off early, investors who bought the securities at a premium on the secondary market, thinking their value would rise over time, could lose big, said Mr. Zimmerman.
But Mr. Zimmerman said Banc One will do everything in its power to prevent the portfolio from getting so bad that it wrecks the deal. This prospect calms investors who say a few bumps are nothing they can't handle.
"Nothing goes in a straight line," said Edward M. Stevens, managing director at PNC Asset-Management Group Inc. in Philadelphia. He said securities backed by credit cards have generally "performed extremely well," and are still attractive investments because they offer higher spreads than Treasuries.