Providian Financial Corp.'s shares pulled out of a tailspin last week after the company announced an enhanced customer satisfaction program.
The shares nosedived two weeks ago on reports that the San Francisco district attorney was investigating allegations of consumer fraud.
Among the card issuer's pledges: reversing late fees for customers who feel wrongly charged, establishing a special toll-free telephone number for unhappy cardholders, and stretching its grace period to three days before assessing late fees.
Providian, which tends to lend to people with weak credit, uses higher interest rates and late-payment and over-limit fees to compensate for risk.
The San Francisco company's shares had peaked April 28 at $131.625, on the strength of a 100% gain in first-quarter earnings, to 78 cents a share. Shares dipped as low as $83.375 on news of the investigation and a class action over advertising that attracted cardholders with the prospect of an improved credit record.
Concern about Providian's practices not only took the steam out of its stock, but also dragged down prices of some other credit card company equities. Analysts reacted by reiterating positive ratings or upgrading card stocks.
"It is really hard to justify this type of a selloff," said David Hochstim, an analyst for Bear, Stearns & Co. in New York.
Shares in another specialist in subprime credit, Metris Cos. of Minneapolis, had fallen as low as $56.125 on May 27- from a high of $71.1875 on May 14-but rebounded by Friday's close to $58.3125.
Capital One Financial Corp. of Falls Church, Va., which had fallen to $144 on Wednesday, from $178.0625 on May 13, rebounded to $150.6875 on Friday. Shares of MBNA Corp., which tends to lend to borrowers with strong credit and high income, had fallen to $26, from $29.1875 on May 13, but recovered to $27.625 on Friday.
Providian staged the most dramatic comeback. Its shares roared back to $95.875 by Friday's close, helped by reassuring comments from analysts. "A lot of the weakness in Providian's stock has been an overreaction to the press," Mr. Hochstim said.
Mark Girolamo, a bond analyst for Deutsche Bank Securities in New York, said Providian has strong business reasons to make good on its advertising promises. "If Providian does not reward good credit behavior by upgrading borrowers" from secured cards, he said, "some other issuer will."
Legal hassles are seen as a part of doing business in the subprime lending market, a hotbed of lawsuits from consumers and activists, analysts said.
"I would suppose that there is not a financial company in America that hasn't had a consumer sue," Mr. Hochstim added. "We are a litigious society. Lawyers are trying to make a buck. Financial companies are nice targets."