American Express: US Cardholders Spent More Than $6,500 in Q4
American Express posted fourth-quarter results that showed consumer spending on its card remained unabated through the holiday season.
Supplementals provided by the company in tandem with its earnings call showed that spending, by and large, topped pre-pandemic levels.
The company said that billed business — which is activity on its cards, including cash advances — was up 32% year over year to $316.2 billion, and up 12% from 2019’s fourth-quarter levels.
Online spending of goods and services was up 16% year over year in the fourth quarter. Offline spending gained 28% in the same timeframe.
During the conference call with analysts, CEO Stephen Squeri noted that American Express had seen continued increases in goods and spending, which was 24% above pre pandemic levels. Travel and entertainment spending continues to rebound, and is 82% of pre-pandemic levels.
Younger Generations Keep Spending
Drilling down into the demographics, millennial and Gen Z spending has grown by 50% over 2019’s levels, and by 51% year over year. Generation X increased spending by 17% over 2019’s tallies, and by 34% year over year. Boomer spending was flat compared to 2019, and up 26% from last year’s fourth quarter. Management said on the call that younger consumers represented 60% of new accounts acquired, globally, in 2021.
Global commercial billed business, at $141 billion, was 6% over 2019’s fourth quarter levels. During the call, the CEO said that “we saw continued robust growth in small business B2B spending, which increased 25% over Q4 2019 levels.”
In terms of the headline numbers, the company’s $2.18 a share in earnings was a significant jump over the $1.78 a share earned last year and topped the $1.86 that had been expected by the Street.
As for the card member spending, the firm said its users spent a combined $368 billion on their cards in the most recent quarter, gaining from last year’s $286 billion last year. In the U.S., that spending total boils down to $6,531 per cardmember, where that metric had been $4,983 last year. Cards in force, the company said, were 121.7 million, compared to 112 million. Of that latest reading, 71.4 million cards were proprietary.
Credit metrics also improved in the quarter. The company said that its net writeoff rate (principal only) was 60 basis points, compared to 1.9% a year ago. Loans that were at least 30 days past due were 70 basis points, down from 100 basis points a year ago.
During the question and answer session with analysts, management stated that buy now, pay later (BNPL) options do not necessarily represent a direct competitive threat (AmEx has its own BNPL options through its “Pay it Plan it” offering). BNPL, as offered by other companies management contended on the call, tends to be aimed at lower users with lower FICO scores and who tend to embrace debit spending.
In separate questioning, about cryptocurrency, the firm still views crypto (like bitcoin) primarily as an asset class — and is unlikely to offer a “crypto card.”
Looking ahead, as CFO Jeff Campbell said on the call, “we expect the total global consumer and SME spending will be fully recovered by the end of 2022 led by the growth in the US.” He noted that recovery across cross border and international spending will be slower, and that large, global T&E spending will be among the last segments to recovery — but the rebounds will offer a “steady tailwind in 2022 and 2023.”
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