American Express profit inches higher in 3Q

Stronger consumer spending, lower costs help boost 3Q profit, revenue for American Express

Associated Press
American Express profit inches higher in 3Q
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FILE - This March 19, 2012 file photo shows a sign for American Express in New York. American Express says its net income rose 1 percent in the third quarter as its customers spent more money, boosting revenue for the credit card issuer. But the rate of growth in customer spending was slower than earlier this year, echoing a trend among major card issuers. The New York-based company said Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012 that it posted net income of $1.25 billion, or $1.09 per share, for the three months ended Sept. 30. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- American Express Co. said Wednesday that its net income rose 1 percent in the third quarter, aided by lower expenses and increased spending by the credit card issuer's customers.

Spending by the company's cardholders rose 8 percent in the U.S. during the July-to-September quarter versus a year earlier. It increased 6 percent globally.

The increased spending helped boost revenue 4 percent. The company also benefited from lower operating costs.

Even so, the rate of growth in spending by the New York company's cardholders actually slowed compared to a few months ago, reflecting a trend among major card issuers this year, CEO Kenneth Chenault said.

In the second quarter, American Express' revenue grew 5 percent from a year earlier.

The company's provisions for loan losses jumped 92 percent to $479 million from $249 million a year earlier, when write-offs and delinquencies were declining at a faster rate and American Express released a far bigger portion of its reserves set aside to cover bad loans.

In the latest quarter, the company's reserve release totaled $88 million, compared to $427 million in the same period last year.

Still, another factor in the increased provision for losses in the third quarter: Cardholder loans are up 6 percent from a year ago.

"Spending growth continues to be healthy despite the uneven economy," said Dan Henry, American Express' chief financial officer, during a conference call with Wall Street analysts.

Even as its customers spent more, some on charge cards that carry balances, they got better about keeping up with their debt payments.

Credit quality — an industry term for how well borrowers are keeping up with debt payments — remained at historically strong levels, the company said.

American Express' delinquency rate was flat compared to the second quarter, and it continued to see declines in the rate of write-offs, Henry said.

Cards with no set spending limit and other high-end perks have helped American Express draw customers who are about a third more affluent than other credit card holders.

Those affluent shoppers have spent more freely in the years following the recession. They also have been less prone to let their balances go unpaid. The combination has helped drive American Express' earnings.

For its latest quarter, American Express reported net income of $1.25 billion, or $1.09 per share, for the three months ended Sept. 30. That compares with net income of $1.24 billion, or $1.03 per share, in the same period last year.

Revenue rose 4 percent to $7.86 billion from $7.57 billion.

Analysts polled by FactSet were expecting earnings of $1.09 per share on revenue of $7.9 billion.

American Express shares ended regular trading up 74 cents at $59.37. The stock fell 66 cents to $58.72 in aftermarket trading after the release of the earnings report.

The stock is up 25 percent so far this year.

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