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Number of credit card offers dives amid financial crisis

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The number of credit card offers sent to Americans has declined to its lowest point in over three years, punctuating the extreme credit tightening by banks amid the tumultuous financial and housing crisis.

Credit card acquisition offers mailed to Americans totaled only 1.34 billion during the third quarter, representing a 28 percent drop from one year earlier, according to Mintel Compermedia, which monitors and analyzes trends in direct mail, e-mail and print advertising.

In 2005 and 2006, Mintel tracked an average of 2.07 billion credit card acquisition offers quarterly. In the first quarter of 2005, credit card offers to Americans reached only 1.86 billion, however.

Lisa Hronek, senior credit card analyst at Mintel, said credit card companies have been cutting back direct mail dollars for years, as they realize that blanketing Americans with credit card offers doesn’t translate to increased sign-up or card usage.

“But now, they’re facing a twofold problem that is much worse,” Hronek said. “Not only are consumers tapped out financially, but issuers are also facing record losses.”

The meltdown in the U.S. housing market, pointed to as the key driver of the credit crisis, has resulted in more than $500 billion of write-downs at financial institutions globally so far.

WAMU AND CHASE ON ‘TOP 10’ LIST

During the third quarter of 2008, Mintel reported that the top 10 mailing credit-card issuers for acquisition direct mail were: Chase, Capital One Bank, American Express, Washington Mutual, Bank of America, Citibank, Barclays Bank, Discover, HSBC and U.S. Bank.

On Sept. 25, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. seized Washington Mutual WM.N in what was called the largest bank failure in U.S. history. Washington Mutual, or WaMu, had been the largest U.S. savings and loan. During the long housing boom, WaMu had aggressively expanded its risky subprime mortgage lending. JPMorgan Chase & Co JPM.N, the parent of Chase Bank, bought Washington Mutual's assets for $1.9 billion in the Sept. 25th deal facilitated by the FDIC.

The decline in direct mailing has hurt the paper industry.

The North American paper industry has been particularly hard hit by the plunge in direct mailing, as demand for printing paper from banks and financial institutions has fallen significantly in recent months.

Last month, International Paper IP.N, one of the largest North American paper producers, said its third-quarter North American paper shipment volumes fell 6 percent from a year ago.

Citigroup Inc C.N and Capital One Financial Corp COF.N are among the major clients that International Paper supplies with products for both direct mailing and internal company use.

Analysts and industry consultants expect printing paper demand to decline between 3 percent and 6 percent in 2009.

Reporting by Jennifer Ablan and Euan Rocha; Editing by Jan Paschal

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