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S&P Raises American Express Subsidiary Ratings

By Andrew R. Johnson Standard & Poor's raised its long-term issuer ratings for American Express Co.'s (AXP) core operating subsidiaries by one notch, citing the credit-card lender's strong performance during the credit crisis. American Express, the largest U.S. credit-card lender by spending, recovered from the financial crisis more quickly than its peers thanks in part to its focus on affluent borrowers. The company focuses on issuing credit and charge cards to borrowers with pristine credit, generating revenue largely from fees it charges merchants for accepting those cards and fees customers pay. S&P raised its ratings on American Express' operating subsidiaries to A- from BBB+ Wednesday. It also affirmed its A-2 short-term issuer ratings on the subsidiaries and its BBB+/A-2 issuer ratings on its non-operating holding company. "The company did not post any quarterly losses during the credit crisis and its recent earnings were strong," S&P credit analyst John Bartko said in a statement. S&P has the long-term ratings on "stable" outlook, reflecting the lender's "positive customer spending trends" and strong performance, though it takes into account the "fragile state of the U.S. economic recovery" and more regulatory pressure. While delinquency and net charge-off rates are near historic lows for many credit-card lenders, American Express has seen some of the lowest rates in the industry. The company faces headwinds this year as payments from Visa Inc. (V) and MasterCard Inc. (MA) from a past settlement have ended and delinquencies potentially edge up, putting more pressure on expense control. American Express' shares were down 2.5% at $53.98 in after-hours trading Wednesday after closing up 2.6%. Its shares are up more than 17% for the year. -Write to Andrew R. Johnson at andrew.r.johnson@dowjones.com

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