Bruce Harting, an analyst at Lehman Brothers, cut his price target for American Express Co. by $5 Monday, to $50 a share, saying the company may temper its forecast for profit growth when it reports second-quarter earnings.
Another analyst, Howard Shapiro of Fox-Pitt Kelton Cochran Caronia Waller, initiated coverage of Amex Monday with an "outperform" rating, writing that the shares have been "unjustly punished." He set his price target for Amex at $55 a share. Late Monday morning the shares were trading at $38.42, off about 2% from Friday's closing price.
In a note to clients, Mr. Harting wrote that "above-average loan growth over the past few years" has put Amex "in a position of repeatedly attempting to reserve enough for the forward twelve months." He expects Amex to report that chargeoffs rose 75 basis points from the first quarter, to 6.05%. Taking that figure into account, along with "a heavy geographic distribution of its portfolio in states with greater home price depreciation, and seasoning on some recent receivable growth still some time off, we expect the company to revise lower its operating growth expectations for the year."
In January Amex said it expected earnings from continuing operations to rise 4% to 6% this year; its "medium to long term" target is 10% to 12%.
Mr. Shapiro wrote to clients that many investors have been "confused" about how to value Amex shares because, in his view, there is no directly comparable stock.
In the past year Amex shares have fallen about 40%, largely on credit concerns. But "with 75% of revenues coming from card spending and fees, a significant part of Amex's business is more directly comparable to Visa and MasterCard, companies which are susceptible to economic weakness but bear no credit risk," than to card lenders like Capital One Financial Corp., Mr. Shapiro wrote.
The listed company most comparable to Amex is Discover Financial Services, he wrote, "given that both companies … simultaneously act as a card issuer, network operator, and merchant acquirer, but they still differ in many other respects, including geographic exposure and customer base."