American Express Co. (NYSE:AXP) disappointed investors Wednesday, reporting a rise in fourth-quarter expenses and provisions for loans that could sour.
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As part of a larger restructuring plan, American Express plans to cut 4,000 jobs across the company over the course of this year, according to a person familiar with the matter. The company has close to 63,000 employees world-wide.
Shares dropped 1.7% in trading after the market closed even as the company reported an 11% rise in profit for the quarter.
Fourth-quarter profit was $1.45 billion, or $1.39 a share, compared with $1.31 billion, or $1.21 a share, a year earlier. Revenue, net of interest expense, rose 6.6% to $9.11 billion from $8.55 billion a year earlier, helped by a gain on the sale of American Express's investment in Concur Technologies.
Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected a profit of $1.38 a share on revenue of $8.53 billion.
While expected by some analysts to show strong expense controls, American Express reported that companywide expenses came in at $6.3 billion, up 3%, or 6% when adjusted for foreign exchange impacts, from a year earlier. The company said it had used a big part of the Concur gain on restructuring initiatives. It took a pretax restructuring charge of $313 million in the fourth quarter.
"A substantial gain allowed us to accelerate some critical initiatives: reengineering to make American Express more efficient," said Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Chenault in prepared remarks.
American Express also spent more on marketing and promotion, and renewing its partnership with Delta Air Lines.
The company's provision for loans that could sour came in at $582 million, up 22% from a year ago.
Ahead of American Express's earnings, Nomura analyst Bill Carcache highlighted the card company as being his "top pick going into results season," adding that it "faces the most favorable setup for a strong year in 2015."
Wednesday, American Express, which issues credit and charge cards and owns a processing network, said card-member spending rose 6%, while loan balances were up 7%.
Last month, Mr. Chenault said the company was seeing strong holiday spending and that Cyber Monday represented the single largest day of customer spending through its cards in the company's history.
"We've made very good progress against the backdrop of an uneven global economy and the negative impact of a strengthening U.S. dollar," said Mr. Chenault on Wednesday, even as he cautioned that the company faces "competitive and regulatory challenges."