Direct mail solicitations from card issuers declined in the first quarter as economic concerns prompted banks to curtail offers to subprime borrowers, according to data from Synovate, the New York market research unit of Aegis Group PLC.

Synovate said Wednesday that the number of card offers mailed in the quarter fell 18% from a year earlier, to 1.13 billion, the lowest figure since the fourth quarter of 2003. The response rate was flat at 0.4%.

The issuers with the sharpest cutbacks were HSBC Holdings PLC, which sent 54% fewer offers; Washington Mutual Inc., which cut mailings 39%; and Citigroup Inc., which cut mailings 36%. Synovate said HSBC and Wamu often target subprime borrowers.

"Most major card issuers have scaled back their offers to lower-income households, resulting in a significant decline in overall mail volume," Andrew Davidson, the vice president for competitive tracking services in Synovate's financial services group, said in a press release.

The research company also said the mailing rate could have bottomed out. Mailings from three large issuers — Wamu, Citi, and Discover Financial Services — rose from the fourth quarter, when all three hit five-year lows. "Their increased volumes in 2008 suggest a more confident outlook for the rest of the year, which could have a ripple effect on the mailbox," Mr. Davidson said.

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