First-quarter earnings at American Express ( AXP) rose 15% from a year ago, as big gains in charge card spending, money-management fees and travel commissions lifted net income and revenue well above analysts' forecasts. The results are a vindication of the capital-allocation strategies of Kenneth I. Chenault, the company's CEO. American Express raised some eyebrows last quarter when it reported that expenses balloon 14% to nearly $5.98 billion because of a near-doubling of its marketing and promotions budget. This quarter, the New York company earned $794 million, or 61 cents a share, compared with earnings of $692 million, or 53 cents a share, last year. Excluding a charge for a change in accounting from the latest quarter, American Express earned $865 million, or 66 cents a share. Revenue rose 15% to $6.91 million, the highest rate of growth in more than a decade. Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were forecasting earnings of 62 cents a share on revenue of $6.55 billion in the latest quarter. The shares were recently trading up 62 cents, or 1.2%, to $50.50 on the New York Stock Exchange. The 52-week high is $53.98. American Express saw blistering growth in all its major revenue-generators, including a 20% rise in discount revenue, which is the margin collected on charge card purchases, to $2.37 billion; a 50% jump in management and distribution fees at its asset-management arm to $779 million; and a 23% jump in travel commissions and fees to $417 million. Charge card spending rose 21% in the quarter from a year ago. The company also saw sharply improved credit quality, with the total provision for losses down 9% year over year, reflecting a 10% decline in the lending provision and a 5% decline in its charge card provision. The charge card interest expense dropped 19%, mostly due to lower funding costs. Expenses continued to be high at the company, although it backed off the pace of its promotional spending in the most recent quarter. Total expenses rose 12.4% to $4.08 billion in the most recent quarter, including a 34.5% jump in marketing and promotion spending to $1.02 billion. The human resource expense rose 16.2% to $1.07 billion.