Sallie Mae on Monday reported third-quarter net income fell 24%, to $108 million, from the year earlier.

Third-quarter earnings were off 25% from the second quarter. Still, Sallie Mae made $391 million in the first nine months of 1998, 4% more than in the same period last year.

"Our third-quarter results didn't meet my expectations because we missed our loan-growth targets," said Albert L. Lord, Sallie Mae's chief executive officer. "Capital market and legislative uncertainty brought secondary market activity to a standstill."

That legislative uncertainty ended last Wednesday when President Clinton signed the Higher Education Amendments of 1998, which blunted a cut in the interest rate banks can charge on student loans.

Sallie Mae buys these loans from banks, and concern that banks would quit the market helped push down Sallie Mae's stock price roughly 16% this year.

The agency bought $2 billion of student loans in the third quarter, compared with $2.3 billion a year earlier.

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