Wells Fargo & Co. is trying to sell nearly a quarter of its $4.4 billion credit card portfolio, but few takers have come forward, say sources familiar with the bidding process.
The available accounts are said to be of less than prime quality and outside of the San Francisco-based bank's core consumer market. Wells, which recently agreed to a merger with Norwest Corp., is signaling that it does not have national ambitions in credit cards.
Like some other regional banks, Wells Fargo wants to focus on customers with which it has banking relationships, said Salomon Smith Barney analyst Chip Dickson.
"Wells is later, rather than earlier, to this trend of pulling out of national markets, but I think it is something they have been considering for a while," Mr. Dickson said.
First Union Corp. and KeyCorp have pulled in their marketing horns, geographically speaking, and Crestar Financial Corp. followed suit this month when it announced the sale of $600 million of receivables, more than half its portfolio, to Fleet Financial Group.
Last week Bloomberg News reported that Wells Fargo had put about $700 million of card loans on the block. Wells spokesman Mark Marymee said the report was "largely accurate" and the bank seeks to shed "out-of-territory" accounts.
Michael Auriemma, president of Auriemma Consulting Group, Westbury, N.Y., said Wells was trying to sell $1.1 billion of card receivables about a month ago.
"The word out on the street is that it's too ugly to buy," Mr. Auriemma said. "The losses are too high and they aren't getting bids."
Mr. Auriemma's firm lost the contract to broker Wells Fargo's portfolio sale to Lehman Brothers Holding Inc.
In a survey based on first-quarter data and published in May by Salomon Smith Barney, Wells Fargo's chargeoff rate of 8.85% was the highest in the credit card industry. The composite for 36 banks and nonbanks in the report was 5.84%.
Wells Fargo reported that credit card loans represented the bank's largest category of net chargeoffs in the first quarter.
The $700 million in for-sale receivables is probably a subset of the $1.1 billion Auriemma Consulting was shopping. Mr. Marymee declined to confirm that or otherwise comment on the $1.1 billion figure.
Unlike Bank of New York Co., Wells does not plan to exit the card business entirely, Mr. Auriemma said. "Their strategy is to get rid of mostly out-of-market" accounts.