LOS ANGELES (AP) — Discover Financial Services on Thursday reported higher earnings for its fiscal fourth quarter, as users of its namesake credit card stepped up purchases and the company wrote off fewer unpaid balances.
Even so, the Riverwoods, Ill.-based company's results fell short of Wall Street expectations, and investors sent its shares down over 3 percent Thursday.
Discover, the nation's sixth-largest credit card issuer, said total loans, credit card loans and Discover card sales volume increased 6 percent in the quarter, which coincided with the tail end of the back-to-school shopping season and the ramp up to the December holidays — key periods when consumers traditionally spend more.
Discover card sales volume increased to $26.5 billion, while credit card loans at the end of the quarter totaled $49.6 billion. Private student loans rose 6 percent, while personal loans climbed 24 percent, the company said.
"Our strong receivables and sales growth results demonstrate the effectiveness of our marketing programs, consumers' preference for cash rewards and our acceptance and awareness initiatives," Chairman and CEO David Nelms said during a conference call with analysts.
While Discover's customers racked up more debt, more of them paid off credit card balances on time. The delinquency rate on credit-card loans over 30 days past due was 1.86 percent, an improvement of 53 basis points from a year earlier. The rate of charge-offs, when the company writes off unpaid credit card balances, dropped to a historic low of 2.29 percent.
"While the continued improvement in credit appears to be nearing an end, we don't believe we are at a point where charge-offs are poised to rise significantly," Nelms said.
Nationwide the rate of credit card payments at least 90 days overdue edged up in the third quarter to 0.75 percent, according to credit reporting agency TransUnion. The rate is coming off historically low levels, however.
Discover has traditionally had one of the lowest rates for default and delinquency in the credit card industry, the result of tighter lending standards and close monitoring of problem accounts.