Credit card issuers continue to focus on spending rather than lending

Leading U.S. credit card issuers reported consistent trends in their second quarter 2011 financials.

  • Declines in charge-off and delinquency rates.  Each of the leading issuers reported very strong declines in net charge-off rates, with three (Capital One, PNC and Wells Fargo) reported declines of more than 100 basis points from the previous quarter.  Most of the leading issuers now have charge-off rates below 6%, with American Express unsurprisingly having by far the lowest rate, at 3.2%.  There is a similar trend for 30+ and 90+ day delinquency rates, with all issuers reporting strong y/y and q/q declines.

  • Growth in spending volume.  All of the leading issuers that published data on credit card purchase volume reported year-on-year growth (quarter-on-quarter trends are not very useful due to the seasonal nature of spending).  Although the American Express U.S. Cards unit has by far the largest spending volume among leading issuers, it also has the strong y/y growth rate in 2Q11, at 13%.  Chase, Discover and U.S. Bank all reported 9% y/y growth rates.  Citihad relatively low growth, at 1.5%, but it is worth noting that, unlike other issuers, Citi’s card spend continued to decline in 2010.  It reported growth in 1Q11 (of 0.3%) for the first time since the second quarter of 2008.
  • Falling outstandings.  As yet, the improved credit quality metrics and rising purchase volumes have not translated into increased credit card outstandings.  This appears to be a result of cardholder deleveraging (increasing payment rates to reduce their card debt).  The following charts summarize the change in outstandings between 1Q11 and 2Q11, as well as the cumulative change since the start of 2009.

At least two of these three trends appear set to continue in the coming quarters.  Most issuers expect charge-off and delinquency rates to decline in 3Q11.  In addition, most issuers are aggressively promoting increased card spend, so we are seeing large bonus point offers for initial purchases, incentives to continue to use cards, and bonus rewards for spending in particular categories (where credit card has traditionally had low payment share).  There may be a change in the downward trend in card outstandings, but this will be mainly dependent on a shift in customer perceptions of the health of both the economy and their own finances.

Leading banks continue to grow marketing spend

One of the more interesting trends in leading U.S. banks’ second-quarter financials is the strong growth in marketing spend. Most of the leading banks significantly scaled back their marketing spend following the financial crisis towards the end of 2008. Since then, most have grown this expenditure, and the latest data shows that this trend is continuing.

The following table summarizes year-on-year changes in marketing spend in recent quarters (quarter on quarter comparisons are typically not very revealing, due to the seasonal nature of marketing spend):