Having cooled off in recent weeks, MBNA Corp. shares got a lift Tuesday when Goldman, Sachs & Co. added the banking company to its investment priority list.

Robert Hottensen, a Goldman Sachs analyst, had already recommended the shares. But MBNA was put on Goldman's focus list based on its prospects for market-share gains. In addition, Goldman said it expects MBNA to use its affinity-group ties, which are the basis of its credit card business, to market other products such as second mortgages and mutual funds.

Earnings Growth Predicted

Mr. Hottensen estimated that the company would earn $2 a share in 1993 and $2.30 a share in 1994. MBNA, based in Newark, Del., earned $1.73 a share last year.

On a day when most bank stock prices fell, MBNA shares rose 50 cents, to $27.50.

The company's shares had gained 19.4% in the second quarter, strongly outperforming the American Banker index, which lost 2.9%.

That runup made the shares too expensive for Michael R. Hughes, a San Francisco-based analyst for Merrill Lynch & Co. Mr. Hughes last week downgraded the stock to "neutral," from "above average."

But many analysts remain bullish on MBNA.

Leveraging Its Strengths

They believe the company will use its underwriting and marketing expertise to generate double-digit annual profit growth during the next few years.

The bank will achieve this rate of earnings growth despite stiff competition in the credit card industry and possible interest rate increases, which would put pressure on credit card issuers' profits.

"This is a cheap stock if you look at the earnings growth and the quality of those earnings," said Thomas P. Facciola, an analyst at S.G. Warburg & Co. "The recent dip created a great buying opportunity."

Mr. Facciola's 12-month price target: $32. He expects 15% earnings growth in 1993 and 1994.

MBNA is gaining market share in the credit card business, where loan volume is on the rise.

MasterCard International recently reported that its members' credit card loans rose 20% in the first six months of this year compared with the same period of 1992.

Mr. Facciola estimated that MBNA's card receivables rose 15% in the second quarter. It's likely that MBNA is scooping up customers from other banks, adding to its market share at others' expense, analysts said. MBNA added 1.1 million credit cardholders last quarter and is on track to add 2.5 million accounts this year. Those new customers could add as much as $2 billion in receivables. This would raise the company's total to $12 billion.

MBNA's growth has not come from offering the lowest-rate cards.

The company specializes in offering cards to groups such as teacher and dentists, so-called affinity cards. Because it understands the spending and bill-paying habits of those groups so well, it can offer higher credit limits and get stuck with lower-than-average chargeoff rates.

"They have a dependable market niche, which is important to survival," said Felice Gelman, an analyst at Digen, Read & Co.

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