Good credit card banks have managed to keep up consistent double-digit growth rates in receivables, but none in the top 10 did better than Chase Manhattan Corp.'s 29% for 1997.
That left the product of the 1996 merger of Chase with Chemical Banking Corp. at $33.1 billion. But by the middle of this year, the loan balances had fallen to $31.9 billion. That reflected an industrywide slowdown, said Michael Urkowitz, executive vice president and head of cardmember services.
Analysts said the 1997 growth was traceable to Chase's acquisition of the $4 billion Bank of New York Co. portfolio. Chase said another kind of growth also kicked in, typified by its Wal-Mart Stores cobranded card.
Without divulging specific numbers, Mr. Urkowitz said, "Our core portfolio also grew in double digits."
Those distinctions aside, "certain issuers by virtue of their size are always going to be important," and Chase is one of the elite, said Moshe Orenbuch, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., New York.
The New York bank is not content with being No. 4 on the bank card list.
"We are shooting at the No. 1 spot," Mr. Urkowitz said. He intends to get there through portfolio acquisitions and a concentration on cobranding. In the latter area, from which others have retreated, Chase has persisted and thrived with partners that include Wal-Mart, Continental Airlines, Shell Oil, Bell Atlantic, and Toys 'R' Us.
The Wal-Mart card ranked highest in overall customer satisfaction, according to J.D. Power and Associates' most recent study of basic and gold cards. Chase also topped Power's platinum-card ranking.
Chase recently began issuing credit cards in Mexico and has mapped plans for Thailand once the Asian economic problems subside. It offers credit cards in Hong Kong, where it recently bought the Manhattan Card Co., and in Panama and the Virgin Islands.