While most bank stocks are marking time, MBNA Corp.'s shares are heating up.

The reason: a strong earnings report and continued growth in its giant credit-card operation.

On Tuesday, when the Newark, Del., bank announced a 20% increase in second-quarter earnings, its shares jumped $1, or 3.6%. The stock picked up another $2.50 on Wednesday, to close at $31.

That amounted to a two-day rise of 12.7%, far exceeding those of other banks.

A Focus on Cards

But MBNA is not like most other banks. Its business is dominated by card lending, and thanks to the success of its affinity marketing programs, analysts are bullish about the bank's ability to sustain earnings growth.

"I think MBNA's earnings will grow at more than the 15% annually that I originally projected," said Thomas Facciola, an analyst with S.G. Warburg & Co. "The rate of growth will be more like 17% to 20%."

If he's right, MBNA's shares should trade higher than their current price-carnings multiple of 13.3. based on projected 1994 earnings.

Mr. Facciola thinks a multiple of 15 is reasonable, so MBNA stock should be selling around $36 before yearend. That's based on his forecast of $2.30-per-share earnings in 1994.

Quarterly earnings of 46 cents a share (or $46 million) were only a few pennies higher than consensus estimates. But the real indication of growth came from MBNA's burgeoning list of cardholders and receivables.

The bank added 920,000 cardholders in the second quarter, bringing the total of new accounts to 1.6 million for the first six months of the year. And the company has told analysts that it will add one million more accounts by yearend.

On top of that, the bank's receivables grew 19% in the second quarter, to $10.6 billion, an increase over the first quarter's 16% growth. And MBNA is predicting 20% growth in 1994.

"MBNA has created a product that's not as much a commodity as other credit-card issuers," said David Hochstim, an analyst with Bear, Stearns & Co. He initiated coverage of the bank with a "buy" on Wednesday.

Affinity Programs

MBNA's strength comes from its Affinity-card programs for groups such as teachers and dentists. Its knowledge of the spending habits of those and other groups allows it to give higher credit limits.

The bank's cardholders tend to have balances around $4,000, twice the industry norm. Chargeoffs, which are below average to begin with, fell slightly last quarter, to 3% on an annual basis.

Now MBNA, which has $6.5 billion in assets, is moving into another phase of marketing to affinity groups, issuing cards that feature the name of a state or a classic car.

Analysts believe that MBNA's marketing expenses for those cards will fall, too.

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