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Capital One, Discover Are Bargains as Industry Resumes Growth

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- "We believe resumption of receivables growth, while maintaining strong credit performance could benefit all issuers, particularly those with low valuations which may enable multiple expansion."

Those words from FBR analyst Scott Valentin are music to the ears of investors holding shares of Discover Financial Services (DFS) and Capital One Financial (COF), which trade at significant discounts to other "purer play" credit card lenders.

Credit card lenders report numbers for their portfolio and securitized card loans each month. The "master trust" data for the securitized loans shows a continued significant decline in overall loan balances, as U.S. consumers continue to pay down card balances at a historically elevated rate.

But nearly all of the big card lenders showed year-over-year growth of over 1% for their on-balance-sheet credit card portfolios during October, which Valentin highlighted in a note to clients on Monday. This is a great thing for investors considering how profitable credit card lending can be, especially during a time of stellar loan quality. In addition to Discover and Capital One, this group includes American Express (AXP), Bank of America (BAC), Citigroup (C) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM).

General Electric (GE) is the largest private label credit card lender, with a portfolio of roughly $36 billion as of Sept. 30. But the company on Friday announced plans to spin off its consumer credit business, in a transaction that will be tax free to current GE shareholders and include an IPO of up to 20% of the equity in the new company. This appears to be a fantastic deal for shareholders, as well as for General Electric, which continues to trim away GE Capital, in order to focus more on its main industrial business. According to KBW analyst Sanjay Sakhrani, The business being spun off had a very strong 4% return on assets during 2012, with a profit of $2.2 billion on about $53 billion in total assets.

"Given the size and private label focus of GE's current operations, we feel that the implications are fairly limited to certain names in our coverage universe, namely Capital One and on a smaller scale Alliance Data (ADS)," Sakhrani wrote in client note on Friday. "Freeing up" the consumer finance unit could unlock significant value for investors. Then again, the GE consumer finance unit's "bank funding advantage could be moderated as the business would not likely have the same access to funding as it currently has," Sakhrani wrote. So the new company may be operating on a more even playing field than it currently enjoys. It will be fascinating to see how aggressive the new company's management will be after GE completes the spinoff during 2014.

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