Credit card delinquency rates slipped or held firm at most major U.S. lenders last month, showing fewer Americans are falling behind on bills, and providing some evidence that the worst of consumers' stress may be over.
Charge-off rates were mixed at the companies -- including JPMorgan Chase & Co, American Express Co and Citigroup Inc -- a reflection of a broad rate rise last summer and a sign that the lenders still face hurdles in the wake of the deep recession.
The delinquency rates likely received a seasonal boost, but nonetheless signal the card issuers are less likely to have to write off bad loans in the future. Charge-offs are loans the companies do not expect to be repaid.
The data build on similar trends in January and December, suggesting U.S. consumers may be clawing out of the recession brought on by the 2008-2009 financial crisis.
Clearly the delinquency trends are improving, and they have been for the last couple months. The question is, particularly in February, how much of it is a seasonal benefit, said Michael Taiano, analyst at Sandler O'Neill.
Consumers tend to use cash from tax returns or year-end bonuses to pay down credit card debt this time of year, reflected in lower delinquencies, the analyst noted. It's hard to tease out now much of an impact that is, he added.
Capital One Financial Corp reported the sharpest delinquency rate drop from January to February, while American Express' rate was flat, according to regulatory filings on Monday. Capital One and JPMorgan reported lower charge-off rates, while the other four companies reported higher rates.
Citigroup was alone in logging a sequential rise in both monthly delinquencies and charge-offs.
Shares of the lenders were mixed, as details of a U.S. Senate plan to revamp financial regulation pressured the broader sector.
Lenders lifted credit card rates last summer, setting off an expected rise in charge-offs in January and February, analysts said. That trend could continue this month.
American Express, the largest U.S. credit card company by purchase volume, said in a filing it expects second-quarter write-offs to be lower than in the first quarter, and that first-quarter write-offs will be similar to the fourth quarter level.
Most of the companies have already suggested that losses probably have peaked, whether it was in the fourth quarter or the early part of the first quarter, Taiano said.
Capital One -- the third-largest U.S. issuer of Visa Inc branded credit cards and the fifth-largest issuer of MasterCard -- said accounts at least 30 days delinquent declined to 5.51 percent in February from 5.80 percent in January. Its annualized net charge-off rate fell to 10.19 percent from 10.41 percent.
JPMorgan, the top issuer of Visa-branded cards, said delinquencies dropped to 4.67 percent in February from 4.75 in January. Among the lenders, JPMorgan had the sharpest decline in charge-offs, of 9.21 percent last month, compared with a 10.91 percent drop the previous month.
The delinquency rate at American Express was flat at 3.6 percent, the lowest of the six companies reporting the performance of their credit card portfolios. Its charge-offs rose last month to 7.4 percent -- also the lowest level -- from 7.0 percent in January.
Citigroup said delinquencies rose to 5.94 percent from 5.75 percent, while charge-offs jumped by the sharpest margin of those reporting, to 11.29 percent from 9.8 percent.
Bank of America Corp, the largest U.S. bank, had the highest rates in both categories. But its delinquencies dropped for a third straight month, to 7.23 percent in February from 7.35 percent in January. Charge-offs rose to 13.51 percent from 13.25 percent.
Delinquencies at Discover Financial Services dropped to 5.50 percent last month from 5.55 percent in January. Its charge-off rate jumped to 9.11 percent from 8.58 percent.
Shares of Discover closed up 1.5 percent, Capital One added 0.2 percent, and Bank of America ended the day flat. Citigroup led the decliners with a 2 percent drop, while American Express and JPMorgan each slipped nearly 0.2 percent.
(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer; Additional reporting by Brenton Cordeiro in Bangalore; Editing by John Wallace and Richard Chang)