The move ends what had been one of the most aggressive stock buyback programs in Discover’s history. In the first half of the year, the company spent $1.5 billion buying back shares. It was only in April that the board authorized a new $4.2 billion buyback program through June 30 next year.
Shares of Discover opened more than 8% lower on the news.
During an earnings call with analysts, CEO Roger Hochschild was asked several questions about the investigation but repeatedly said he was limited in what he could disclose. He said the decision to halt takeovers was Discover’s and not a diktat from regulators.
But the lack of disclosure and guidance on the timing of the investigation left one analyst pointedly reminding Hochschild that analysts would have to guess when buybacks might resume in their modeling.
In prepared remarks before taking questions, Hochschild said the internal investigation pertained to “our student loan servicing practices and related compliance matters.”
Regulators have already descended on Discover for its handling of student loans. In 2015, the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that the company engaged in “illegal collection practices” and, among other things, misstated minimum amounts due on monthly statements.
Two years ago, the bureau found Discover had violated the terms of its 2015 consent order. Discover paid affected borrowers $10 million and another $25 million in penalties.
Asked if the new investigation was related to the regulatory action, Hochschild acknowledged the existence of the order but said: “Beyond that, there’s really nothing I can add. for the moment.”
Hochschild added to the mystery by saying the takeover could potentially resume before the investigation is even complete. “There are many complex factors that come into play,” he said.
Discover made the decision to stop share buybacks; regulators didn’t require it, Hochschild said.
Student loan issues eclipsed what was a good quarter financially for Discover, which saw consumer loan growth accelerate while suffering very few loan losses. Credit card loans were up 15% as of June 30 from the same point last year.
For now, however, all investors’ eyes are on the lingering regulatory issues with student loans, which are otherwise doing well financially. Student loans accounted for 11% of Discover’s $88 billion in total loans at the end of the quarter.
“As soon as we can, we hope to relaunch the buyout,” Hochschild said.