Signet Banking Corp. reported weaker-than-expected second quarter earnings Tuesday, revealing a slowdown in credit card growth. Two other Southeastern banks released earnings that were also below consensus estimates.

Signet, which is based in Richmond, Va., said it earned $50.4 million in the quarter, or 88 cents a share, up 25% from the year-ago quarter, but 6 cents below consensus estimates compiled by First Call.

Signet shares fell $4.50 Tuesday to $36.375 as analysts fretted about a credit card slowdown. "It's become an institutional favorite and there are a lot of people in this thing" said Dean Witter's Anthony R. Davis.

"In that kind of situation, you're vulnerable if there's some kind of disappointment."

Nationwide Reach Through Mail Solicitation

Signet, with $10.8 billion of assets, has become a national powerhouse in credit cards through direct mail solicitations. The managed portfolio exceeded $6.5 billion by June 30th.

But the company's second quarter report for the first time indicated that growth is slowing in an environment of rising interest rates, which squeeze the profit margins on Signet's low-rate cards.

Marketing campaigns generated 436,000 new accounts, down from 570,000 in the first quarter. Growth in receivables fell to $700 million from $800 million during the period.

At the same time, Signet's costs are rising. The company spent $24.3 million on credit card marketing in the second quarter, compared to $21.4 million in the first.

Marketing Costs Climb $39.8 Million

Largely because of credit card solicitations, Sigpet's noninterest expense sorard by $39.8 million to $139.5 million fro the yer ago quarter.

Thomas K. Brown, of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, said he remained hopeful about Signet's long-term prospects despite the "temporary interruption" revealed Tuesday.

His thesis is that a repricing of Signet's card receivables at higher rates will swell profits next year.

"I think there's some real reason to be optimistic, particularly about the 1995 earnings," Mr. Brown said. "I think the market's reaction is very short-term."

Meanwhile, both AmSouth Bancorp, Birmingham, and BB&T Financial Corp., Wilson, N.C., released earnings that came in 3 cents below consensus estimates.

AreSouth, .which has $17.3 billion of assets, earned $42.9 million, up 8.1% from the year-ago quarter. But per-share earnings of 78 cents fell below the 81 cents consensus estimate.

Better, but Not Good Enough

BB&T, with $9.9 billion of assets, netted $28.3 million, representing a 7.2% improvement over the year-ago quarter. Earnings per-share of 77 cents compared with an 80 cents consensus.

BB&T said it incurred over $2.5 million in nonrecurring acquisition-related expenses and experienced a $1.4 million loss in its mortgage origination business during the quarter.

Profits at both AreSouth and BB&T were helped by lower loan-loss provisions: down 63% from the year ago quarter at AmSouth, and an 84% decrease for BB&T.

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