American Express Shares Down 20%, Most Among Dow Stocks

Douglas A. McIntyre

American Express Co. (NYSE: AXP), its franchise under attack by companies that include Visa Inc. (NYSE: V) and MasterCard Inc. (NYSE: MA), has posted a share price drop of 20.5% to $55.38, which makes it the worst-performing Dow Jones Industrial Average stock so far in 2016. The Dow is off 4.5% over the same period to 16,639.97.

To place the sharp decline in a longer term perspective: American Express shares are down 36% over the past year. CEO Kenneth Chenault has presided over the collapse. He has been chief executive since 2001. 24/7 Wall St. recently included Chenault on its list of CEOs Who Have to Go in 2016.

The editors commented:

Kenneth Chenault has been chairman and CEO of American Express since 2001. It is worth noting that he has made some good decisions for the company in the past. The company’s stock price, however, has been on the decline in recent months. The company has spun off several units over the years, and for the most part, this has hurt Amex. The stock closed 2015 at $69.55 — down 26% for the year, and analysts expect another decline in 2016. Among the events that have damaged Amex the most is the loss of its position as exclusive credit card for Costco. Amex also recently lost its branded card deal with Fidelity. Recently, Amex announced a management reorganization with an unknown number of job cuts, as well as a $1 billion target in cost cuts over the next two years. The company’s problems are exacerbated by the fact that many retailers do not use Amex. With the rise of Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, Apple Pay and a myriad of other forms of competition in card processing and card issuance, the time for a new transformational CEO for the digital age has arrived. With Chenault turning 65 this year, it is time to hand the baton over and let a new CEO move the company beyond its present problems.

The evidence of the hurdles Amex faces is its eroding financials. Last year, revenue fell 4% to $32.8 billion. Earnings fell to $5.05 per share from $5.56 for the full year 2014. Chenault’s comments about 2016 disappointed Wall Street:

Our 2015 results and outlook reflect the reset in co-brand economics, pressures on merchant fees, the evolving regulatory environment and intense competition that have been re-shaping the payments industry. A number of cyclical factors in the broader economy have also weighed on our performance and influenced our outlook. Against that backdrop, and the fact that revenue growth has not accelerated as we anticipated, we are moving aggressively to streamline the company and drive efficiencies in order to take out $1 billion from our overall cost base by the end of 2017.

Those comments immediately dragged the stock down. Bottom line improvement will depend largely on cost cuts. American Express’s core business is eroding.

MasterCard and Visa are not the only major competition American Express faces. The number of electronic and mobile payment systems continues to rise, which gives consumers a broad array of options to pay for goods and services.

Because of this competition, American Express is not only performing poorly. There is not much chance the performance will get better.