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No other financial services company enjoys the reputation and brand that
American Express(AXP - Get Report) has. The $69 billion payment network operates the largest closed-loop payment network in the world, giving it differentiation from larger open-loop competitors such as
MasterCard(MA). Because AmEx actually issues its own plastic, the firm is able to court bigger margins for its trouble.
American Express also courts a different consumer than Visa or MasterCard. By focusing on big-spending buyers, AmEx actually has higher dollar volume than its rivals, even if those competitors have more cardholders. And since the firm also charges higher processing fees than peers, American Express is able to turn that niche focus into enormous revenue generation.
While other firms have tried to pursue consumption spending the way American Express has been able to, most have been stuck playing catch-up, effectively offering "knock offs" of AmEx's Centurion card.
As long as this firm can keep its niche happy, shareholders should remain happy too. Look for share prices to increased on the heels of increased consumer spending in 2013.