Associates First Capital Corp., already swelling with credit card accounts, swept up another portfolio last week as it agreed to buy Citgo Petroleum Corp.'s gas card loans for $120 million, marking Associates' third gas-card purchase this year alone and possibly setting the stage for a debut credit card securitization in the near future.

At least the gun is loaded. "I think they're thinking about doing a credit card securitization," said one investment banker familiar with this and other recent transactions.

Before Citgo, Associates held nearly 11.3 million active gasoline-card accounts throughout Texaco Inc., Shell Oil Co. and BP Amoco Plc. Additionally, Associates manages private label credit cards for retail companies - including Radio Shack, Goodyear, Helzberg Jewelers - and manages commercial accounts for office supply chains Staples, Office Depot and Office Max.

Although the company takes a solid no comment as to whether or not they plan to securitize credit loan debt in the future, Sandra Allen, senior vice president of communications, did say, "We securitize selectively."

Associates has issued five ABS bonds since 1996 - four backed by manufactured housing loans and one home-equity offering - pricing at more than $2.3 billion combined.

Associates First Capital Corp is based in Irving, Texas, and provides financial services including finance, leasing, home equity lending, and insurance products.

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