Just two of the 2,100 credit unions with credit card receivables of $1 million or more sold their portfolios during the first quarter and sales will likely remain low all year, according to TRK Advisors.

The Peterborough, N.H., card portfolio consulting firm also said the two sales were small, involving portfolios of between $1 million and $2 million in receivables.

"The sales were so small because of several issues coming together at once, including the implications from the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act, which have made it impossible to forecast portfolio value," Timothy Kolk, TRK's president, said in an interview Friday.

In the past, "many counted on being able to sell card programs at high values. But now that assumption has disappeared," he said. One in five credit union card programs is unprofitable, and it will take years to fix because of the Credit CARD Act, Kolk said. "It is a very tough environment for smaller issuers right now," he said.

Buyers are affected because of the reduced value of credit card programs and the increased risk, Kolk said. "Buyers have become more careful than ever that they are not buying someone else's mistake and are focusing on managing existing relationships."

The card-issuing market appears to be segregating into two sections for those interested in selling, Kolk said.

The first is issuers having trouble selling at any price because of credit problems, compliance issues or specific pricing decisions such as offering fixed-rate cards.

The other group is sellers that are still open to sales but have realized that purchase price levels no longer are as high as they once were.

Because sales can take six and 12 months to complete, fewer portfolio sales will occur this year than in 2009, Kolk said. And for the industry as a whole, "no one knows when this will turn around," he said.

The market continues to change, he Credit CARD Act still has another phase in August and Plus "interchange legislation also is a troubling possibility for card issuers," Kolk said. And though the market will recover eventually, credit card portfolio sales will "never be back to what we had in 2006 and prior," Kolk said.

Credit unions sold only five card portfolios in the fourth quarter of 2009 and sold 22 portfolios all of last year, the same total as in 2008.

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