Pink Slips Fly at American Express

Don't leave home without what ... a job?

Credit card giant American Express (NYSE: AXP  ) became the latest financial company to hack off a chunk of its workforce, announcing it will lay off 7,000 workers, or 10% of headcount. It'll also slash investment spending, cut consulting, travel, and entertainment expenses (bah humbug) and freeze management-level salary increases.

These moves "will help us to manage through one of the most challenging economic environments we've seen in many decades" said AmEx CEO Ken Chenault, whose compensation is more tightly linked to stellar performance than many other corporate bigwigs.

The cuts should save AmEx a hefty $1.8 billion in 2009, which it very well may need heading into a pitiful economy where consumer spending could nosedive and defaults are likely to blow up. Banks and card companies that extend credit -- names like AmEx, Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) -- have been ratcheting up lending standards and actually cutting people's existing credit limits, a pretty clear sign that they're hunkering down and preparing for the worst. Companies like Visa (NYSE: V  ) and MasterCard (NYSE: MA  ) don't issue credit, so their downside risk heading into a recession is far lower.

Despite the bad news and a less-than-impressive quarter, many investors look at AmEx as a pretty compelling value story, including possibly one Warren Buffett. Take a great company with one of the world's best reputations, mix in a once-in-a-lifetime economic storm, and you get an opportunity to snag a great company at a great price, the thought goes.

The Motley Fool's 120,000-member CAPS community doesn't look down on AmEx either, tagging it with a three-star rating (out of five) -- not too shabby for a financial company these days. Care to share your thoughts? Click here to come on over to CAPS and tell us what you think. It's free.

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Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America are Motley Fool Income Investor selections. American Express is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. The Fool owns shares of American Express, and has a disclosure policy.


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