American Express Stock Gained 38% Over Recent Months, Is It Still Attractive?

by Trefis Team
+8.44%
Upside
96.26
Market
104
Trefis
AXP
American Express Company
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American Express stock (NYSE: AXP) lost more than 44% – dropping from $123 at the end of 2019 to around $69 in late March – then spiked 38% to around $95 now. This implies it’s still 23% lower than at the start of the year.

This can be attributed to 2 factors:  The Covid-19 outbreak and economic slowdown meant that market expectations for 2020, and the near-term consumer demand, dropped. This could negatively affect the company’s top and bottom line due to a significant decline in card spending on travel, hotels, and other discretionary items coupled with increased exposure to potential loan defaults. The multi-billion-dollar Fed stimulus provided a floor, and the stock recovery owes much to that.

But this isn’t the end of the story for American Express’ stock

Trefis estimates American Express’ valuation to be around $104 per share – about 10% above the current market price – based on an upcoming trigger explained below and one risk factor.

The trigger is an improved trajectory for American Express’ revenues over the second half of the year. We expect the company to report $36.7 billion in revenues for 2020 – around 16% lower than the figure for 2019. Our forecast stems from our belief that the economy is likely to open up in Q3. The easing of lockdown restrictions in most of the world is likely to help consumer demand, resulting in higher spending. The company has co-branding card arrangements with several hotel chains and airlines, e.g., Delta Air Lines, Marriott International, British Airways, Hilton Worldwide Holdings, etc. Further, American Express derives around 80% of its revenues from fees income which is charged as a % of card transaction volume. As travel restrictions are eased and transaction volume picks up in the coming months, the credit card giant is likely to see some improvement in revenues. Overall, we see the company reporting an EPS of around $3.13 for FY2020.

Thereafter, American Express’ revenues are expected to improve to $40.7 billion in FY2021, mainly due to higher discretionary consumer spending on travel, hotels, and other items. Further, the net income margin is likely to improve as compared to the previous year due to a decline in provisions for credit losses, leading to an EPS of $6.66 for FY2021. 

Finally, how much should the market pay per dollar of American Express’ earnings? Well, to earn close to $6.66 per year from a bank, you’d have to deposit about $725 in a savings account today, so around 110x the desired earnings. At American Express’ current share price of roughly $95, we are talking about a P/E multiple of around 14x. And we think a figure closer to 16x will be appropriate.

That said, consumer finance is a risky business right now. Growth looks less promising, and near-term prospects are less than rosy. What’s behind that? 

American Express is the third-largest player in card transaction volumes in the U.S. Further, it has a sizable portfolio of consumer and commercial card loans – around $83 billion in FY2019. The economic downturn could negatively affect the loan repayment capability of its consumers, exposing the company to significant loan defaults. As a result of this exposure, American Express has increased its provisions for loan losses to around $4.2 billion by Q2 2020– roughly 2.5x of the year-ago period, leading to a huge spike in total expenses for the year. If the economic condition worsens, this figure could further increase in the subsequent months. 

The same trend is visible across American Express’ peer – Capital One. Its revenues are likely to suffer in FY2020 due to a drop in consumer spending. Further, its margins are likely to drop due to build-up in provisions for credit losses in anticipation of bad loans. This would explain why Capital One’s stock currently has a price of $65 but looks slated for an EPS of around $7.20 in FY2021.

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