American Express Reports Profit But Cautious on Economy

American Express Company reported fourth-quarter income from continuing operations of $238 million, down 72 percent from $858 million a year ago. Net income totaled $172 million for the quarter, down 79 percent from a year ago. Consolidated total revenues net of interest expense declined 11 percent to $6.5 billion, down from $7.3 billion a year ago.

“Our fourth-quarter results reflect an operating environment that was among the harshest we have seen in decades,” said Kenneth I. Chenault, chairman and CEO. “Nevertheless, we met our near term goals— staying liquid, staying profitable, and investing selectively to strengthen our competitive position over the longer term. We remained profitable in the quarter and generated $2.8 billion in earnings for the full year 2008. We exceeded all of our funding requirements, in part by raising $6.2 billion through a new retail certificate of deposit program.”

Chenault referred to American Express' multi-year partnership with Delta Air Lines this quarter, the expansion of its global network business and the integration of the corporate card business it purchased from General Electric as signs of the company's stability during the current economic downturn. In addition, the company's $3.4 billion investment from the U.S. Treasury Capital Purchase Program will aid its ability to continue extending loans to credit-worthy consumers and small business owners.

”We authorized more than $73 billion of U.S. charge card spending during the quarter, and we are providing U.S. consumer and small business cardmembers with open credit lines that are on par with year-ago levels, despite the difficult conditions in the marketplace," Chenault said. "Our aim is to accommodate the spending needs of our cardmembers, while helping to ensure that they do not incur inappropriate debt levels.”

As much as American Express had positive news to report, Chenault did not hold back on expressing caution.

“While our business volumes compared favorably with other major competitors, overall cardmember spending declined 10 percent year-over-year, or 5 percent adjusting for foreign exchange rates. As anticipated, loan delinquencies and write-offs rose," he said. "These trends, together with the restructuring charge, had a significant impact on our bottom line.

“We remain cautious about the economic outlook through 2009, and expect cardmember spending to remain soft with past-due loans and write-offs rising from current levels," he continued. "However, we believe the longer-term growth potential of the payments sector remains very attractive. The investments we are making in our business will help ensure that we can capitalize on those opportunities when the environment improves.”


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