Being the natural contrarian that I am, when I get the sense that a lot of supposedly smart people like a stock, I start to lean the other way. And yet, predisposed as I am to dislike American Express (NYSE:AXP), I keep seeing value here. Perhaps that ends up being a more meaningful compliment, then -- I don't want to like it, yet I do.

For another quarter, it looks like "so far, so good" at American Express. Revenue was up 14% as reported, with adjusted revenue in the U.S. card services business up 14%, international card revenue up 9%, and global network/merchant services revenue up about 14%. It also looked as though expenses were kept in check, and pre-tax operating income grew nicely.

Most of the basic components that underpin this business model continue to develop in an apparently positive direction. Cardholder numbers were up about 11% from last year, volume was up by a solid mid-teens percentage, and loan balances also rose nicely. In other words, AmEx keeps getting people to take its cards, and those people keep using them. What's more, partners like Citigroup (NYSE:C) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) continue to sign folks up, adding considerably more than 2 million cards to the mix.

I think it's fair to say that the American credit card market is still in the process of adjusting to new rules and opportunities. Last year, we saw GE (NYSE:GE), Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), and Morgan Stanley's (NYSE:MS) Discover credit card business team up for a Wal-Mart-branded card that will be issued by GE and processed by Discover. Further tie-ups seem all but inevitable, which means that AmEx must devise attractive exclusive offerings to maintain customer satisfaction, staving off not only Visa and MasterCard (NYSE:MA) but other would-be entrants as well.

The one fly in the ointment is consumer spending. Sooner or later, you have to think that consumers will stop borrowing money to finance discretionary spending. When that happens, it'll be a tough stretch for AmEx and its rivals. However, consumers have already stretched themselves further than many pundits thought that they would (or could), so who knows when it'll end -- though I think the longer it takes, the worse the adjustment will be.

For more financial Foolishness:

Bank of America is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. MasterCard and Wal-Mart are Inside Value recommendations.

Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).