Credit quality continues to improve for leading U.S. card issuers

The leading U.S. credit card issuers continue to report strong improvements in their net charge-off rates.

  • Of the 11 issuers analyzed, eight had 3Q11 net charge-off rates below 5%.  Four had rates below 4%, with American Express leading the industry, at 2.6%
  • Over the past 12 months, eight issuers reduced rates by more than three percentage points (300 basis points)
  • Seven issuers reported rate declines of more than 100 bps between 2Q11 and 3Q11

Issuers also reported strong year-on-year improvements in 30+ day delinquency rates, although the quarterly trend indicates that these declines may be bottoming out. 

  • Five of the seven issuers analyzed had 30+ day delinquency rates below 3%
  • Six of the seven issuers reported triple-digit y/y declines in delinquency rates. The largest decline was reported by Bank of America (178 bps), which still has the highest delinquency rate among these seven issuers
  • Between 2Q11 and 3Q11, delinquency rates for two issuers (American Express U.S. Card and U.S. Bank) were unchanged.  Capital One’s 30+ day delinquency rate rose 32 bps in the most recent quarter

The strong declines in charge-off and delinquency rates have enabled issuers to significantly reduce their provisions for credit losses, which have boosted profitability.  However, with delinquency rate declines leveling off, it is expected that reductions in charge-off rates and loss provisions will also abate in the coming quarter.

Therefore, issuers will increasingly look towards revenue growth drivers to maintain and grow profitability.  On the one hand, they will seek to continue to encourage cardholders to increase spending on their cards, which drives up noninterest income.  In addition, with charge-off rates now at relatively low levels, and with revenue growth remaining anemic, credit card issuers may be more inclined in the coming quarters to seek to build card outstandings and drive net interest income, perhaps through a combination of easing underwriting standards, offering strong introductory offers on balance transfers, and even reducing APRs.