Like most credit card companies, American Express (NYSE:AXP) hasn't exactly posted stellar numbers over the past year. However, in this Fool Live video segment, recorded on May 3, Fool.com contributor Matt Frankel, CFP, explains to Industry Focus host Jason Moser why he's such a fan of the company.
Jason Moser: But a company like American Express, that has had to pivot from this identity of being a card for the wealthy to really having a card for everyone. With that in mind, American Express was another company that reported earnings here recently. We wanted to dig into that one as well. What stood out to you there for American Express this quarter?
Matt Frankel: Well, their stock actually took a dive after earnings, revenue was down 12% year over year, which in a lot of the cases like we mentioned with Capital One, earnings were down year over year, pretty flat, but revenue did OK. Revenue wasn't down double digits like American Express' was. That I think bothered people a little bit. Comparing it to the first quarter of 2020, not very useful. But just like Capital One, about half of their net income for the quarter was reserve releases. They released a little over $1 billion. This all lowered loan volumes in credit cards spending, just like Capital One. Card member spending, just comparing it to a year before COVID. Like I said, 2020 is not very useful for comparison. Here is one thing that I found really interesting. Spending on American Express cards, excluding travel and entertainment, which people aren't spending money on still for the most part, was up 11% Europe from 2019 levels. That's pretty impressive. Everything other than travel and entertainment was nicely higher. Unfortunately, American Express makes its money by selling cards based on travel and entertainment benefits. I mean, the key part with my American Express Platinum Card is being able to use airport lounges.
Frankel: Their big credit card partnership is Delta. They have the Delta branded American Express cards. Of course if you exclude travel and entertainment, it's going to look OK. But that's a big piece of the puzzle. I think that also spooked investors a little bit, they did say that they've seen an uptick on travel and entertainment spending in recent weeks. That's promising, but the fact that they had to back that out, to even compare it with two years ago is not that impressive. They came out and said that 2021, they're viewing it as a transition year. They're investing. They're trying to grow their core business. I mentioned I have the platinum card. They did a really great job of pivoting to some non-travel benefits that people were able to use in COVID times. They did a store credit at Home Depot, it was one of the big ones that I was able to use. They did online credit at Best Buy, online credit at Goldbelly, which if you haven't used Goldbelly, it's where you order food from restaurants from all over the country to have it shipped to you. They did a credit for that for members, which we used and was really fun. They've really done a great job of engaging their customers. I don't know of any other major high-end credit cards that have really pivoted their benefits like that.
Frankel: I'm still a fan of American Express. I may add to my position. That was the first financial stock I ever bought, almost 10 years ago.
Moser: Wow. No kidding.