American Express profit falls 10 per cent, but tops estimates

NEW YORK, N.Y. – American Express said its third-quarter profits fell by 10 per cent from a year earlier, as the company absorbs the loss of its lucrative deal with Costco.

However, the results handedly beat analysts’ expectations and the company raised its full-year profit guidance, sending its shares up sharply in after-hours trading.

The credit card giant said Wednesday that it earned $1.14 billion in the quarter ending September 30, or $1.20 per share, down from $1.27 billion, or $1.24 per share, in the same period a year earlier. Analysts had been expecting AmEx to earn 97 cents per share in the latest quarter, according to FactSet

New York-based American Express continues to deal with the aftereffects of losing its exclusive partnership with warehouse chain Costco. At the time the divorce was announced in January 2015, Costco represented roughly 10 per cent of all AmEx-issued credit cards and 8 per cent of AmEx’s billed business. The companies officially parted ways in June of this year and American Express cards are no longer accepted at Costco stores. The Costco co-branded credit card is now managed by Citigroup.

Costco aside, AmEx had had a relatively strong quarter.

The company’s U.S. consumer card division posted a profit of $401 million, down from $542 million a year earlier, reflecting the absence of Costco from its results. But average card-holder spending, a closely watched metric for the company, was up 10 per cent from a year earlier. AmEx earns most of its money from taking a percentage of each transaction run on its payment network, similar to Visa and MasterCard. The average fee paid per card also increased.

In most of AmEx’s divisions, the company was able to at least partially offset the loss of Costco from its books — a sign that the transition efforts that AmEx executives took on a year earlier appear to be working. AmEx has said it planned on increasing promotions and marketing to retain card holders, and would look to enhance its card products to keep its card holders from fleeing to its competition.

Along with Citigroup’s recent acquisition of the Costco business, AmEx is also facing competition from JPMorgan Chase, which launched a premium credit card called Chase Sapphire Reserve that has received extraordinary interest since its launch less than two months ago.

“While there’s more work and more challenges ahead, the investments we’re making are designed to position us for profitable, sustainable growth over the longer term,” American Express Co. Chairman and CEO Kenneth Chenault said in a prepared statement.

American Express raised its full-year guidance for adjusted earnings to $5.90 to $6 per share, compared with the $5.40 to $5.70 the company previously forecast.

American Express shares rose $3.35, or 5.5 per cent, to $64.60 in after-market trading.