Will Amazon Deal Drive American Express Volume Past Mastercard?

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Since losing its exclusive business with Costco back in 2016, American Express Co. (NYSE: AXP) has struggled to regain its spending volume. Between the second and third quarters of 2016, Amex volume dropped by $20 billion and the company fell behind Mastercard Inc. (NYSE: MA) into third place behind volume leader Visa Inc. (NYSE: V).

American Express raised its purchase volume to $183 billion in the first quarter of this year, just $2 billion shy of its second quarter 2016 total and its highest non-holiday quarterly total since the split with Costco. Now the company has signed a deal to issue a co-branded card with Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) targeted to U.S. small business owners. The card agreement is part of a larger multiyear deal between the two companies that Amex says “will enhance the way small businesses buy goods and services across Amazon.”

Amazon Vice-President Max Mardon said:

Offering the best of both brands, the cobranded small business credit card program will combine the buying power, convenience and value small businesses have come to know and love from Amazon backed by the world-class service, benefits, access and security of American Express.

It may be possible for the co-branded card to push Amex’s dollar volume past Mastercard’s, but it won’t have any effect on the company’s second-quarter volume. It’s way past too late for that.

Amex is making a conscious effort to drive up transaction (and purchase) volume by cutting its merchant fees. Analysts at Trefis estimate a 10% drop in net income annually that the company expects to offset by higher loan and transaction volume.

Monday’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that Amex did not engage in anti-competitive behavior with its so-called anti-steering contracts will add little to Amex’s surge. Seeing that Amex had already lowered its transaction fee for merchants, the decision is not likely to influence revenue or sales much.

Still, purchase volume should rise enough to return Amex to its position as the second-largest card issuer based on purchase volumes. Leader Visa’s purchase volume is greater than the combined total for Amex, Mastercard and Discover.

American Express shares traded down about 0.3% just before noon Tuesday, at $98.27 in a 52-week range of $83.10 to $103.24. The 12-month consensus price target on the stock is $108.88.