Some Banks Want To Consign Credit Card Interest To History
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Some Banks Want To Consign Credit Card Interest To History

Australian lenders hope no-interest cards can arrest a decline in usage and attract younger customers.

By ALICE URIBE
Tue, Jan 12, 2021 12:30amGrey Clock 4 min

Interest charges have been one of the defining features of credit cards for decades and so when an employee at a big Australian bank suggested getting rid of them, he was taking a risk.

“He said, ‘Well, what about a no-interest credit card?’ ” said Rachel Slade, personal banking group executive at National Australia Bank Ltd., recalling a feedback session at one of the lender’s Melbourne offices. “And everyone’s like, ‘What? That’s not how a credit card works.’ ”

Worried about dwindling credit-card usage during the coronavirus pandemic and the rapid rise of startups like Australia’s Afterpay Ltd. and Sweden’s Klarna Bank AB that allow consumers to pay for goods in instalments, some banks are rethinking what has been one of their most lucrative businesses.

National Australia Bank, known locally as NAB, launched a no-interest credit card in September. Users get a fixed line of credit and the bank levies a monthly fee, which is refunded if the customer maintains a zero balance and doesn’t use the card. Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the country’s largest lender by market value, also unveiled a no-interest card last year.

The experiment isn’t being replicated in the U.S. where most credit-card issuers charge interest when cardholders carry balances. But if they prove to be successful, Australian banks’ no-interest cards could drive change in other markets.

Fees on the cards offered by NAB and CBA vary according to credit limits. For example, a balance of $1000 Australian dollars on CBA’s no-interest card could accrue nearly $484 in fees over 40 months if there is an outstanding balance each month. The same balance on the NAB card repaid at that product’s minimum rate would cost about $292 over 29 months.

In both cases, that is more than the interest accrued by a customer making the same repayments on a regular card with a 16.6% annual percentage rate, the typical rate in Australia. And like with other cards, customers are required to make minimum monthly repayments on any outstanding balances.

Still, the banks are betting that consumers will like the products for their simplicity. No-interest cards are designed to give customers more control over their spending via a product that is easy to understand, said Angus Sullivan, CBA’s group executive of retail banking services.

According to Australia’s central bank, the country’s credit and charge card balances fell by almost 34% in the two years through October to the equivalent of $21.17 billion. More than 60% of the decline came in March and October last year as the pandemic pushed Australia’s economy into recession.

Over the same period, debit-card transactions locally grew by 4.7% in number and by 5.6% in value, to hit more than the equivalent of nearly $33 billion.

Some analysts view the no-interest cards as a salvo in an intensifying battle for share of the payments market between banks with large credit-card businesses and buy now, pay later providers like Afterpay and Zip Co.

In Australia, buy-now-pay-later services don’t need to verify income or check existing debts held by users, which makes it easier for consumers to gain access to those products than a traditional credit card.

According to their most recent half-yearly filings, Afterpay and Zip respectively count 14% and 9% of Australia and New Zealand’s combined adult populations as customers. The average age of the 3.3 million Australians and New Zealanders using Afterpay at the end of June was 35 and 33, respectively.

Ms Slade said NAB’s no-interest card aims to attract younger customers who don’t necessarily have strong ties to the bank, illustrating a broad concern among traditional lenders that they are losing out in the battle for millennials.

In the three months since launch, the StraightUp card was among NAB’s three most popular credit cards among new applicants. Demand was strongest among customers under 40 years old, the bank said.

Tom Beadle, an analyst at UBS Group AG, said it is unlikely that no-interest credit cards in Australia will be a material threat to the buy now, pay later sector. This is because the consumer still needs to pay for the cards through upfront fees of up to $22 a month.

In contrast, buy now, pay later services often charge no interest and are generally free to users who make payments on time. A survey published by UBS in October found that most buy now, pay later users valued the payment method because it helped them to budget and they considered it convenient.

“The whole beauty of Afterpay is that it’s just really simple: It’s free,” Mr Beadle said. “People just want simplicity, and Afterpay have absolutely nailed that.”

Afterpay and Zip have made no secret that they intend to challenge credit-card providers. In August, Zip said the credit card industry was fundamentally broken, citing high revolving interest, confusing terms, a lack of trust and an absence of brand loyalty that had accelerated a structural decline in usage.

Four years after its debut on Australia’s stock market with a market value of $149 million, Afterpay is now worth US$32.7 billion. Afterpay and Zip are also expanding in the U.S., recording a combined A$7.4 billion Australian dollars in transactions on their networks in the six months through June.

Still, the UBS survey, based on 1,000 respondents, found a “not insignificant proportion” of users appear to regard buy now, pay later as a line of credit. Some 25% of users said they couldn’t afford a product with their existing savings, while 12% said they couldn’t get approval for a credit card.

Australia’s experience could offer lessons to the U.S., where lenders are also seeing a decline in credit-card usage and growth in debit-card usage, although it will take time before banks can be sure no-interest cards are popular.

Credit reporting firm Experian PLC said that U.S. consumer credit card debt in 2020 contracted for the first time in eight years. After hitting a record high of US$829 billion in 2019, balances decreased by 9% in the past year.

At Visa Inc. and Mastercard Inc., U.S. debit-card dollar payment and purchase volume collectively rose 23% year-over-year in the quarter ended in September, more than double the pre-Covid-19 growth rate; the same measure for credit cards was down 8%.

Some American credit-card issuers are seeking to slow the buy now, pay later industry’s growth in other ways. Late last year, Capital One Financial Corp. stopped their cards from being used to make Afterpay purchases and payments, the Australian company said.



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These stocks are getting hit for a reason. Instead, focus on stocks that show ‘relative strength.’ Here’s how.

By KEN SHREVE
Wed, Jun 12, 2024 4 min

A lot of investors get stock-picking wrong before they even get started: Instead of targeting the top-performing stocks in the market, they focus on the laggards—widely known companies that look as if they are on sale after a period of stock-price weakness.

But these weak performers usually are going down for good reasons, such as for deteriorating sales and earnings, market-share losses or mutual-fund managers who are unwinding positions.

Decades of Investor’s Business Daily research shows these aren’t the stocks that tend to become stock-market leaders. The stocks that reward investors with handsome gains for months or years are more often  already  the strongest price performers, usually because of outstanding earnings and sales growth and increasing fund ownership.

Of course, many investors already chase performance and pour money into winning stocks. So how can a discerning investor find the winning stocks that have more room to run?

Enter “relative strength”—the notion that strength begets more strength. Relative strength measures stocks’ recent performance relative to the overall market. Investing in stocks with high relative strength means going with the winners, rather than picking stocks in hopes of a rebound. Why bet on a last-place team when you can wager on the leader?

One of the easiest ways to identify the strongest price performers is with IBD’s Relative Strength Rating. Ranked on a scale of 1-99, a stock with an RS rating of 99 has outperformed 99% of all stocks based on 12-month price performance.

How to use the metric

To capitalise on relative strength, an investor’s search should be focused on stocks with RS ratings of at least 80.

But beware: While the goal is to buy stocks that are performing better than the overall market, stocks with the highest RS ratings aren’t  always  the best to buy. No doubt, some stocks extend rallies for years. But others will be too far into their price run-up and ready to start a longer-term price decline.

Thus, there is a limit to chasing performance. To avoid this pitfall, investors should focus on stocks that have strong relative strength but have seen a moderate price decline and are just coming out of weeks or months of trading within a limited range. This range will vary by stock, but IBD research shows that most good trading patterns can show declines of up to one-third.

Here, a relative strength line on a chart may be helpful for confirming an RS rating’s buy signal. Offered on some stock-charting tools, including IBD’s, the line is a way to visualise relative strength by comparing a stock’s price performance relative to the movement of the S&P 500 or other benchmark.

When the line is sloping upward, it means the stock is outperforming the benchmark. When it is sloping downward, the stock is lagging behind the benchmark. One reason the RS line is helpful is that the line can rise even when a stock price is falling, meaning its value is falling at a slower pace than the benchmark.

A case study

The value of relative strength could be seen in Google parent Alphabet in January 2020, when its RS rating was 89 before it started a 10-month run when the stock rose 64%. Meta Platforms ’ RS rating was 96 before the Facebook parent hit new highs in March 2023 and ran up 65% in four months. Abercrombie & Fitch , one of 2023’s best-performing stocks, had a 94 rating before it soared 342% in nine months starting in June 2023.

Those stocks weren’t flukes. In a study of the biggest stock-market winners from the early 1950s through 2008, the average RS rating of the best performers before they began their major price runs was 87.

To see relative strength in action, consider Nvidia . The chip stock was an established leader, having shot up 365% from its October 2022 low to its high of $504.48 in late August 2023.

But then it spent the next four months rangebound—giving up some ground, then gaining some back. Through this period, shares held between $392.30 and the August peak, declining no more than 22% from top to bottom.

On Jan. 8, Nvidia broke out of its trading range to new highs. The previous session, Nvidia’s RS rating was 97. And that week, the stock’s relative strength line hit new highs. The catalyst: Investors cheered the company’s update on its latest advancements in artificial intelligence.

Nvidia then rose 16% on Feb. 22 after the company said earnings for the January-ended quarter soared 486% year over year to $5.16 a share. Revenue more than tripled to $22.1 billion. It also significantly raised its earnings and revenue guidance for the quarter that was to end in April. In all, Nvidia climbed 89% from Jan. 5 to its March 7 close.

And the stock has continued to run up, surging past $1,000 a share in late May after the company exceeded that guidance for the April-ended quarter and delivered record revenue of $26 billion and record net profit of $14.88 billion.

Ken Shreve  is a senior markets writer at Investor’s Business Daily. Follow him on X  @IBD_KShreve  for more stock-market analysis and insights, or contact him at  ken.shreve@investors.com .