Fourth-quarter earnings at American Express ( AXP) largely fell in line with the credit card and travel services company's warning earlier this month that it was beginning to see signs of consumer credit weakening. In the final quarter of the year, the New York-based company made $831 million, or 71 cents a share. That's down 10% from a year earlier, when it made $922 million, or 77 cents a share. Earnings from continuing operations fell 6% to $839 million, or 71 cents a share. Total revenue rose 10% from a year earlier, to $6.4 billion. Revenue excluding interest expenses rose 10% to $7.4 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Financial estimated a profit of 71 cents a share on revenue of $7.85 billion. American Express
said earlier this month that it expected earnings from continuing operations to be in the range of 70 cents to 72 cents a share. The fourth quarter included several previously announced items, including a provision charge of $438 million before taxes ($274 million after taxes); and a gain of $1.13 billion ($700 million after-tax) from the company's settlement of litigation with Visa and several member banks, which it accused of freezing it out of the bank-issued credit card business, among other things. "Results for the year met or exceeded all of our long-term financial targets, even though we saw clear signs of a weakening economy and business environment in December," said Chairman and CEO Ken Chenault. For the full year, the company reported income from continuing operations of $4 billion, or $3.39 a share, up 12% from $3.6 billion, or $2.92 a share, in 2006. "The fourth-quarter additions to reserves were appropriate for an environment that is more difficult than we have seen in recent years," Chenault said. "While our outlook for 2008 remains cautious, and we continue to expect slower earnings growth in the year ahead, we are not changing our fundamental approach to managing the business. We expect to take advantage of growth opportunities in those parts of the market with strong underlying economics." "We are not immune from further deterioration in the economic and credit environment, but we believe our focus on the premium sector should help us to weather the current conditions better than many competitors," Chenault later said. He reiterated the company's long-term financial targets of 12% to 15% EPS growth, 8% revenue growth and a return on equity of 33% to 36%. Shares were falling 3% in recent after-hours trading Monday.