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American Express is the Dow’s top stock for 2021. Here’s why

<i>Shutterstock</i><br/>American Express reported a quarterly profit of $2.3 billion
American Express reported a quarterly profit of $2.3 billion

By Paul R. La Monica, CNN Business

American Express is the top stock in the Dow so far this year, and AmEx’s earnings on Friday morning show why investors are never leaving home without it.

The credit card giant reported a quarterly profit of $2.3 billion, easily topping Wall Street’s forecasts. Revenue for American Express came in at $10.2 billion, a 33% jump from the second quarter of 2020 and also ahead of consensus estimates. The stock rose nearly 4% Friday on the news.

The stock is up more-than 45% this year, putting AmEx slightly ahead of Goldman Sachs. Like Goldman and other top financial stocks, Amex has thrived during the past few months as the economy has roared back to life following the brief Covid recession last year and consumers started spending again.

AmEx also has outperformed credit card rivals Mastercard and fellow Dow component Visa, which are up 7% and 12% respectively in 2021.

The company has enjoyed an impressive run since CEO Stephen Squeri took over in 2018 from longtime AmEx chief Ken Chenault.

Squeri has boosted AmEx’s investments in tech and diversified into other areas like small biz lending with last year’s acquisition of fintech startup Kabbage, a tech company aimed at small businesses. AmEx launched a new Kabbage checking account for that market last month.

“Our strong second-quarter results show that the steps we have taken to manage the company through the pandemic and our strategy of investing to rebuild our growth momentum are paying off,” Squeri said in the company’s earnings release.

Squeri also said during a conference call with analysts Friday morning that AmEx is holding up well despite increased competition from technology companies like Square and Venmo owner PayPal as well as traditional card issuers such as Capital One and US Bancorp.

“There is a lot of competition. There’s a lot of fintechs. There are banks out there,” Squeri said, noting that the banks in particular are “aggressive.”

AmEx doing a better job of reaching younger customers

Executives noted that AmEx has also done a better job of reaching younger consumers.

Chief financial officer Jeffrey Campbell said during the conference call that AmEx spent $1.3 billion on marketing expenses (which includes advertising) in the second quarter. The company plans to spend about $5 billion total on marketing this year, Campbell said.

For example, a new AmEx commercial this year shows a woman trying on jeans again after presumably wearing sweatpants while working from home for the past few months.

“We saw card member spending accelerate from the prior quarter and exceed pre-pandemic levels in June, with the largest portion of this spending growth coming from Millennial, Gen Z, and small business customers,” Squeri said in the press release.

During the conference call, Squeri said younger consumers are going out more and starting to take vacations again, which also is giving the company a boost.

AmEx has co-branded cards with Delta and Hilton, and Squeri said spending volume for both increased by double digit percentages in the quarter.

“Travel and entertainment spending also accelerated in the quarter, particularly in the US, where a growing percentage of the population is now fully vaccinated,” he said.

AmEx also recently relaunched its vaunted Platinum card, offering more travel and shopping benefits for average consumers. The company boosted the annual fee for this high-end card.

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