American Express (NYSE: AXP) might be on the verge of a turnaround. The grand old name in American credit cards has reported some revenue growth in recent months.

Amex reported revenues of $32.12 billion (€27.33 billion) in December 2016; that fell to $31.92 billion (€27.16 billion) in March 2017 and $31.99 billion (€27.22 billion) in June. This is certainly an improvement over last year’s revenue losses but it is not necessarily a turnaround.

American Express’s revenues are still lower than they were in June 2016 ($32.91 billion or €28 billion); when the company could still tap Costco (NASDAQ: COST) customers as a revenue source. Nor are revenues back to where they were in June 2015 when AXP reported $33.62 billion (€28.61 billion) in revenues.

Why are American Express’s Revenues Growing?

It looks as if Amex is recovering from the loss of Costco and beginning to capitalize on new revenue sources such as Apple Pay. Yet it also looks as if American Express has a long way to go recapture its glory days.

Despite that American Express has proved that it is still competitive and relevant in today’s market. There are some good signs for American Excess including growing income inequality.

The 2015 Pew Income Study found that there are more rich people in America and they have more money than ever. Some key Pew Findings that look good for Amex include:

  • The percentage of Americans living in upper class households is rising. Around 14% of U.S. residents were upper class in 1971- that number grew to 21% in 2015.

  • Not only are there more upper class people they have more money than ever before. Upper income households controlled nearly half of America’s wealth in 2014.

  • The percentage of Americans in the two-highest income brackets now exceeds the percentage in the two lowest income brackets. In 2015, 21% of Americans could be construed as “rich” or upper-middle class.

  • The rich are the fastest growing class in America – in 2001 7% of Americans were in the highest income group that rose to 8% in 2011 and 9% in 2015.

This means that American Express has many more potential customers out there if it can figure out how to market to them. That makes Amex’s reputed focus on affluent customers a smart move, although it is not without cost. Wealthier customers require more attention and higher operating costs.

Is American Express Making Money

The demographics look good for American Express but is it making money? The answer to that question provided by ycharts data is a definitive yes.

Some evidence that American Express is still capable of a lot of money includes:

  • $4.544 billion (€3.87 billion) in net income on June 30, 2017. This is down significantly from $5.606 billion (€4.77 billion) in June 2016 and $5.408 billion (€4.60 billion) as recently as December 2016. Among other things the income decline indicates higher operating costs.

  • A free cash flow of $883 million (€751.35 million) on June 30, 2017. This was a significant improvement over June 2016 when AXP reported $262 million in free cash flow.

  • $167 billion (€142.10 billion) in assets on June 30, 2017. This was a nice increase over $159.64 billion (€135.84 billion) in June 2016.

  • $30.44 billion in cash and short-term investments on June 30, 3017. This was down from $33.77 billion (€28.74 billion) in June 2016, but it is still very good.

  • $9.308 billion (€7.92 billion) in cash from operations on June 30, 2017. This is a definite improvement over the $6.855 billion (€5.83 billion) reported in March 2017. Cash from operations increased by $2.453 billion (€2.09 billion) during the second quarter.

  • A market capitalization of $74 billion (€62.97 billion) on July 27, 2017.

  • An enterprise value of $100.33 billion (€85.37 billion) on July 27, 2017.

These numbers prove that American Express is still a very profitable company with a lot of float. Its’ business model is still sound and Amex is still capable of revenue growth.

Is American Express still a Good Investment?

The numbers also prove that American Express is still a very good investment. Shareholders received a dividend of 32¢ (€0.27) a share on July 5, 2017. A nice increase over the 29¢ (€0.25) paid on June 29, 2016.

Those investors also enjoyed a 21.81% return on equity on June 30, 2017. That makes American Express both a value investment and a growth stock. If you’re looking for a good widows and orphans stock in the finance area, American Express certainly fits the bill.

American Express’s Bright Future

I think there are three big money making opportunities before American Express in the future. They are ecommerce, payment apps and cryptocurrency.

  • Amex might be able to harvest a lot more revenue from ecommerce if it were to launch branded cards for popular online retailers. For example an Amazon Prime American Express for Prime members. It would be accessible via Amazon Pay, and for use as a payment app at brick and mortar stores. This would be a good way to get Millennials and Generation X to start using American Express.

  • American Express is already available through popular payment apps including Apple Pay and Android. Expanding options through these, especially the ability to accumulate rewards points would be a good means of luring in more Millennial customers. One tremendous out there is special rewards points for specific retailers such as Trader Joe’s. Another is an American Express App integrated with popular store rewards points programs like that at Kroger.

  • If American Express can integrate its cards with popular cryptocurrencies; such as bitcoin and ethereum, it would expand its reach particularly in the developing world. An intriguing option would be a card that pays reward points in bitcoin or ethereum. A long term revenue generator would be a card that allows for transactions in several different crypocurrencies; such as Litecoin, Bitcoin and ethereum. A company called TenX is already developing such a card in Singapore.

My take is that American Express is on the verge of a recovery. It may not be fast, but expect some steady and profitable growth from this reliable value investment in the near future.

A slightly different version of this article appeared at Market Mad House.


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