American Express Sees Encouraging Economic Signs

American Express Company reported third-quarter income from continuing operations of $642 million, down 25 percent from $861 million a year ago. The third quarter results included a $180 million ($113 million after-tax) non-recurring benefit associated with the company’s accounting for a net investment in consolidated foreign subsidiaries. Net income totaled $640 million for the quarter, down 21 percent from $815 million a year ago. 

“Today, while there is still reason to be cautious about high unemployment levels, we are seeing broad-based improvements in credit quality, the trends in cardmember spending are encouraging and there are signs that the recession may be approaching an end,” Kenneth I. Chenault, chairman and chief executive officer said.  “Our results showed further progress in navigating through the most difficult economic environment in decades. We generated substantial earnings this quarter due, in part, to the reengineering efforts that have successfully lowered our expense base. Just as important, we stepped up investments in the business with a focus on: premium cobranded products, charge card offerings and brand building initiatives in the U.S. and select international markets. We funded these investments, as expected, from the benefits we realized from better credit metrics during the past several months.

”While third quarter revenues declined because cardmember spending and loan volumes were down from year-ago levels, overall billings have stabilized during the last few months and we saw indications that spending by corporate cardmembers is beginning to pick up,” Chenault continued. ”During the quarter, we also expanded our deposit gathering activities, raising a net $4.1 billion as part of our funding strategy based on staying liquid at a time when the credit markets remain volatile.”

”At the start of the year the economy appeared to be in a freefall, the drop in cardmember spending was accelerating and loan loss rates were rising rapidly," Chenault said. “Our three priorities remain: staying liquid, staying profitable and investing selectively for growth. However, in anticipation of sequential improvement in our loan loss provision during the fourth quarter, we are focused more and more on the third priority – investing in the business to make sure we capitalize on growth opportunities.”