American Express customers clearly didn’t leave home without their credit cards when they went shopping this holiday season. The company said Tuesday that revenue in the fourth quarter soared 30% from a year ago, thanks in large part to record spending by its members.
Investors were pleased. Shares of American Express (AXP), The stock, one of the top performers in the Dow last year, soared 9% in late afternoon trading, making it the biggest gainer in both the Dow and S&P 500.
American Express CEO Stephen Squeri said in the company’s earnings release that in addition to the all-time high levels of spending, the company benefited from having “customer retention and satisfaction above pre-pandemic levels.” AmEx was also able to increase loan balances.
The company remains confident that the good times will continue to roll as well. AmEx raised its revenue outlook for 2022 and announced an increase in its dividend payout to shareholders. Squeri said during a conference call with analysts that the company is poised to benefit from “the recovery tailwinds we anticipate from continued improvement in the macroeconomic environment.”
The good news for AmEx is also a sign that many consumers still felt confident about the prospects for the economy at the end of last year, despite the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
The pandemic hasn’t stopped consumers from spending — both online and at physical retail outlets. Vaccines and boosters have helped somewhat, allowing customers to feel more comfortable shopping at brick-and-mortar stores and taking trips.
To that end, Squeri said that there has been a significant comeback in travel-related spending, despite “modest impacts from the Omicron variant” in December.
Squeri said that even with that month’s slowdown, travel and entertainment spending by cardholders rose 8% above the pre-pandemic levels seen two years ago.
Will consumers keep spending in 2022?
There are questions about what will happen to the economy and consumer spending once the Federal Reserve begins to raise interest rates, which many expect will happen in March.
But for now, AmEx customers are still in healthy financial shape. AmEx chief financial officer Jeffrey Campbell said during the conference call that write-offs and delinquency rates remain near historically low levels for the company.
The Fed has pointed out that consumers all across America are spending more as well, even as pandemic stimulus checks have run out. Consumer credit rose at an annualized pace of 11 percent in November, according to Fed data.
And the New York branch of the Federal Reserve noted that spending growth is “moving well above pre-pandemic levels” in its latest household spending survey released Monday.
By Paul R. La Monica