Credit unions' card programs performed strongly in the third quarter of 2009, but the numbers of credit unions that have sold their card portfolios ticked higher as more credit unions face pressure on their bottom lines and uncertainty about the card market.According to Tim Kolk, a credit union card industry analyst and founder of TRK Advisors, NCUA third-quarter data shows that seven credit unions with card portfolios of over $1 million finished selling their portfolios between July and September. Year to date, according to Kolk, 17 credit unions have sold their portfolios.Asset Exchange, the CU card brokerage and consultancy owned by Fidelity National Information Systems, said it could only verify six CUs that had sold their portfolios in the quarter. The consultancy also released an analysis of NCUA third-quarter credit union card data and performance.Kolk predicted that more credit unions may be interested in selling their card portfolios as regulatory and financial pressures make card issuing more complicated and time consuming."It remains to be seen whether current year's pace will continue, accelerate or decline after most of the requirements of the CARD Act are implemented in February 2010," Kolk wrote in an analysis of the market.Other card industry analysts have looked to the pressure a number of credit unions are facing on their balance sheets for the reason for selling card portfolios, which, they pointed out, remain many credit union's single best performing asset. In addition, given the way many bank card issuers have been treating their customers, a credit union might receive a lot of negative feedback from its members about turning their card accounts over to bank card issuers, other card executives noted.Some, like CU card consultant Ondine Irving, were bullish on the possibilities that cards can offer credit unions, even in and because of the current economy."Credit unions are about to experience a tremendous surge in credit card activity," Irving wrote in response to a question about CU card prospects. "The unfair and unethical practices of banks, including Chase, Citibank and Bank of America are driving consumers to seek other options, and one of those options will be credit union credit cards."Asset Exchange reported that, according to its analysis, credit unions with card assets of over $1 million continued to grow at the same pace as they had in the second quarter but that their percentage of their credit unions overall assets dropped because the CU's other assets grew faster. According to Asset Exchange, CU card portfolios of over $1 million grew at 6.2% over the third quarter, but the overall assets of those credit unions grew at 10.1% over the same period.The consultancy reported that the number of credit union card accounts grew at a 1.9% annual rate from September 2008 to September 2009 to 12.3 million. The firm also found that the percentage of portfolios that grew more than the rate of inflation during the previous 12 months increased to 81% in the third quarter of 2009 from 56% in the third quarter of 2008, as the inflation rate was negative. In the third quarter of 2009, 74% of portfolios grew in nominal terms, Asset Exchange said.The firm also reported the rate of card penetration, the percentage of credit union members that hold their credit union cards, held flat during the quarter at roughly 18%. CU card penetration generally lags as many credit union members do not open credit card accounts immediately after joining a credit union. –[email protected]

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