Updated from Thursday, April 23

American Express ( AXP) on late Thursday reported its first-quarter profit plunged by more than half compared to a year earlier, but soared past the consensus analyst expectation.

The credit card company said in a release issued after the markets closed that net income totaled $437 million in the first three months of the year vs. $991 million in the year-earlier period.

Net income attributable to common shareholders totaled $361 million vs. $985 million a year earlier. It accounts for dividends American Express paid to the U.S. Treasury on its preferred investment as well as a $72 million related gain and other ancillary adjustments in the quarter and prior year.

Earnings from continuing operations attributable to shareholders was 32 cents a share vs. 89 cents a share a year earlier.

Analysts had expected the company to make 12 cents a share.

Revenue fell 18% to $5.9 billion as consumers and businesses reined in their spending habits during the weakened economy.

Average cardmember spending fell 16% to $2,391 during the quarter from $2,838 in the year earlier period, the company said.

American Express took a $1.8 billion provision to offset the rising amount of bad loans amid the weakened consumer environment, primarily in its U.S. revolving card business, it said.

"While we did see some recent improvement in early delinquency rates, overall credit indicators reflected rising unemployment levels and the broad-scale weakness in the economy," chairman and CEO Ken Chenault said in a statement.

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