When I watch Kobe Bryant play, I'm almost disappointed if he doesn't score 40 or 50 points, given his level of talent. I feel the same way about American Express (NYSE:AXP), because of its seemingly insurmountable competitive advantage. In its first quarter of 2007, the company didn't disappoint.

While competitors in banking, credit cards, and mortgage lending struggle through the current interest rate and credit morass, American Express almost seemed not to notice, posting 10% revenue growth and 26% earnings-per-share growth.

Much of that net income growth was owed to the company's top line expanding faster than its expenses. American Express posted a mouthwatering 36.6% return on equity. The company's attractive rewards programs and extremely strong brand allows it to attract higher-income members who spend a lot of money and have little trouble paying off their credit card debt. Most importantly, American Express doesn't have to spend a lot of money to nab these customers, so its incremental returns on capital are through the roof.

In the quarter, U.S. everyday and retail spending on American Express cards grew 15%, and travel- and entertainment-related spending increased 9%. The number of worldwide cards in force also grew 10%. In a nutshell, more people spending more money equals more profits for American Express.

Much like the situation at Capital One (NYSE:COF), provisions for credit losses at American Express increased 30%, primarily thanks to 2005 bankruptcy legislation that resulted in very low credit losses in 2006.

All in all, the quarter's most impressive highlight was American Express's 10% total net sales growth in a very competitive environment, compared to only a 4% increase in expenses. The company's ability to shrug off competition reflected well on the sturdiness of its brand and business model.

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Fool contributor Emil Lee is an analyst and a disciple of value investing. He doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned above. Emil appreciates your comments, concerns, and complaints. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.