MBNA Investors Receive a Scare

MBNA still plans to issue its complete quarterly statement on Wednesday.
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A small after-hours trade executed nearly 17% below Thursday's closing price gave

MBNA

(KRB)

investors a fright, prompting the company on Friday to disclose its earnings early in an effort to calm frayed nerves.

For the first quarter ended March 31, the credit card issuer said it would report earnings of 28 cents a share, matching the expectations of analysts polled by

First Call/Thomson Financial

.

The Wilmington, Del.-based bank holding company still plans to issue its complete quarterly statement on Wednesday. But the earnings were released early because 100 shares of the company's stock traded for $22 a share around 4:15 p.m. EDT Thursday, after the

New York Stock Exchange's

4 p.m. close. The stock had traded between 25 9/16 and 26 1/2 Thursday, closing at 26 5/16.

"It was just so out of line from what the closing price was that it got people curious," said Alex Giacco, spokesman for the company.

Some people identifying themselves as investors on

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

message boards immediately drew dire conclusions about the company's performance.

"Earnings must be worse than figured and news leaked?" wrote a message board chatterer using the screen name "stargazer 19711." "KRB goes from 26's to 22 between 4:10 and 4:30 PM? Something bad this way comes..."

Seeking to assuage clients' concerns, Bradley Ball, an analyst at

Credit Suisse First Boston

, quickly released a report describing the information on data services as erroneous. The $22 trade "does not represent the current market view of the stock," wrote Ball, who rates the stock a strong buy and did not disclose whether his firm has done recent underwriting for the company.

Sure enough, MBNA bounced back Friday morning, trading up 4 5/8, or 21%, at 26 5/8. In other words, the stock was practically unchanged. (MBNA closed up 4 3/8, or 20%, at 26 3/8).

Giacco said the stock traded on an exchange signified by the letter T, but that "we have not been able to track down where it was."

Some MBNA fans quickly sought to reassure their jittery brethren on the message boards, describing the appearance of false after hours trading data as a common occurrence signifying nothing. One even cited a nearly identical trade of 100

Xerox

(XRX) - Get Report

shares executed below the market price on Dec. 17. The company, however, confirmed that the trade did occur.

By late evening, the excitement had died down.

"No worries now," wrote a person using the screen name "vabulo" around 8:25 p.m. EDT Thursday, when referring to the $22. "If that price holds, we'll have a SUPER open in the morning," added "vabulo."