Within three months of re-entering the credit-card securitization market with its First USA portfolio, Bank One Corp. has agreed to purchase the $8.1 billion Wachovia Bank portfolio, $4.5 billion of which is unsecuritized.

"We are out of the go-go growth days' of the credit card business, and Wachovia was a way for us to continue on the growth path," said Steve Etherington, Bank One's first vice president of securitization. "We realize this is an economies and scale game', and we have the scale capacity. The super portfolio of Wachovia fits well with our focus on the prime [credit-card] customer."

Although the receivables will be transferred to Bank One's platform, the company intends to continue marketing the Wachovia brand. It's unclear whether or not Bank One will securitize those cards separate from its First USA line, or sell those receivables into a common master trust.

"It's too premature at this point to tell," a company spokesman said.

Through Dec. 30, 2000, Bank One was managing approximately $67 billion worth of credit card accounts, roughly $40 billion, or 60% securitized and off-balance-sheet, plus $22.7 billion in seller's interest and $4.7 billion in raw credit-card receivables.

According to Etherington, credit card funding now makes up 15% of Bank One Corp.'s funding base.

Bank One did not securitize credit cards in 2000, and so far this year has been in the market three times, issuing more than $3 billion worth of credit card-backed securities, according to Thomson Financial Securities Data. In addition to the $3 billion issued for the first quarter, Etherington said that his company plans another $3 billion to $5 billion for the rest of the year.

"We are going to time the market opportunistically, but we do not feel compelled to put a deal out," Etherington noted. "We are planning approximately six to nine billion in total issuance for 2001, and next year, will will refinance all of that and do some more."

According to published reports, the acquisition, which will net Bank One more than $75 billion in managed receivables, will push the company into the No. 2 spot, just ahead of MBNA Bank ($70 billion), and still nearly $20 billion behind Citibank.

Wachovia announced in February that it had retained Credit Suisse First Boston to assist in the sale of its card unit.

Wachovia has brought four credit card deals to market since 1995, most recently last July, via a joint lead of Lehman Brothers and Wachovia's own capital markets division.

The company recently filed a shelf with the Securities & Exchange Commission to securitize dealer floorplan loans.

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