Credit card defaults on store-branded accounts hit near record levels during the holiday shopping season and the trend is likely to continue this year, Fitch Ratings analysts said Thursday.
Fitch's report shows that more than one in every eight dollars of receivables was written off as uncollectable during the November collection period on an annualized basis.
Fitch's Retail Credit Card Chargeoff Index in December snapped a two-month decline, rising 1.2 percent to 12.56 percent from the previous month. A new all-time high charge-off rate of 12.81 percent was set in August 2009. Throughout the year, retail charge-offs averaged 11.88 percent, more than 42 percent above the historical average of 8.34 percent.
"While results were negative throughout the year, we have seen the pace of deterioration moderate more recently," Fitch Managing Director Michael Dean said in a statement.
Losses may be reduced by card issuers as they set stricter standards and become more selective in offering new accounts, Dean said.
Fitch analysts expect retail card charge-offs to remain elevated throughout first half of the year in part because of expected continued high unemployment.
Despite the elevated charge-off and delinquency measures, Fitch expects retail card ratings to remain stable throughout 2010.
Revolving credit usage decreased at an annual rate of 18.5 percent in November — the largest dollar-value drop since 1968, Fitch analysts said.
As long as the employment and income growth remain weak, demand for consumer credit — especially retail credit — will be limited, the analysts said.
The Fitch index tracks more than $65 billion in principal receivables of retail or private-label credit cards. The cards are distributed by more than 165 retailers including Wal-Mart, Sears, Home Depot, and Best Buy.
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