Distressed sales of large banking operations made last year a busy one in the card receivables market, according to a tally by R.K. Hammer Investment Bankers, a Thousand Oaks, Calif., firm that brokers portfolio transactions.
The volume of receivables changing hands last year rose nearly sixfold from a year earlier, to $55.3 billion, R.K. Hammer said.
The 2006 total was $90.3 billion, including Bank of America Corp.'s purchase of MBNA Corp., which closed on the first day of that year.
Washington Mutual Inc.'s credit card operation accounted for much of last year's volume. The Seattle thrift company had $26.4 billion of managed receivables at June 30, the date of its final quarterly report before it was seized by regulators and its banking operations were sold to JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Another major transaction, Wells Fargo & Co.'s purchase of Wachovia Corp., closed at the end of last year.
Robert Hammer, R.K. Hammer's chief executive officer, said in an interview Wednesday that he expected this year's market to be "frothy."
Lenders will look to sell card holdings to address capital and liquidity issues, Mr. Hammer said.
An example is Citigroup Inc., he said, which reportedly intends to sell its private-label card portfolio as a part of a sweeping retrenchment it is undertaking under pressure from regulators.
Card accounts that do not carry the Citi brand made up about 36.5% of the New York company's $151.1 billion of receivables as of Sept. 30.
Poor economic conditions and financial constraints on potential buyers have reduced prices and may be restraining deal activity, Mr. Hammer said.
General Electric Co. said in December 2007 that it was looking for a buyer for its private-label credit card business. But in September, the conglomerate said that it planned to hold onto the unit because of the poor environment for such a sale.
R.K. Hammer said the average sales premium last year on prime portfolios fell 490 basis points from 2007 and 330 basis points from 2006, to 16.5% of receivables.
The averages are based on a combination of factors, including observed market prices and work by R.K. Hammer to estimate fair value.
Mr. Hammer said prices might drop further this year, "because there are not as many people with as much capital in the room when the auctions take place."
Pricing conditions have "as much to do with the buying community and their financial position" as it does with asset quality, he said.