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Regions Dives Back Into Credit Cards

NEW YORK ( TheStreet -- Regions Financial (RF - Get Report) has changed its hands off approach to credit cards by re-acquiring a $1 billion credit card portfolio from FIA Card Services, a Bank of America (BAC - Get Report) subsidiary for an undisclosed amount.

Regions sold its Regions-branded credit card business, valued at $300 million portfolio, to MBNA in 2000.

The purchase announced Tuesday will balance out Region's consumer lending and commercial lending portfolios, which are about 38 pecent and 62 percent of the business respectively, says Sandler O'Neill analyst Kevin Fitzsimmons. He added that Regions recently also got back into the indirect-auto lending business and the credit card business goes along with this newfound strategy.

"These tend to be higher yielding assets. They are looking for growth where they can get it," said Fitzsimmons. "These are Regions-branded credit cards so and the servicing will still be done by FIA until 2012 so the customer won't see much impact."

"They diversify their assets and get a relatively high yielding asset," said Jones Day partner Chip MacDonald. "SunTrust got back into credit cards a couple years ago. Credit cards are a good way to get into the consumer business."

KBW analyst Jefferson Harralson says that it will be an $80 million capital bush toward the consumer business.

"They are protecting the size of the balance sheet a bit," Harralson said. "I like this strategy a lot. These branded cards have lower loss rates and larger return rates to Regions."

The deal is expected to close by the end of the second quarter. Even though Regions has yet to pay back the$ 3.5 billion it owes the Troubled Asset Relief Program, analysts do not think there will be much regulatory scrutiny against the deal.

"They would have to ask permission, but as it does not damage the bank's capital position I don't see much objection," said Fitzsimmons. "Bank of America may have had an incentive to sell this off as larger banks are looking to get smaller instead of bigger."

--Written by Maria Woehr in New York.

To contact the writer of this article, click here: Maria Woehr.

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