February 28, 2024

A restaurant table covered with plates full of food.

Photo: Scott Suchman for The Washington Post via Getty Images (Getty Images)

They might not be flying as much, and they might be a skosh late on their bills, but American Express customers sure do love to eat. For the first time in 2023, they expensed more than $100 billion at restaurants around the world.

Continuing a trend that started a few years ago when businesses started cutting back on travel spending during the pandemic, wining-and-dining is now AmEx’s biggest travel-and-expense category. Elsewhere in its earnings presentation Friday (Jan. 26), the company noted that it brought in $8.3 billion in profit for the year on more than $60 billion in revenue. Both figures were up more than 10% from the year before, and Wall Street liked those numbers enough to lift the company’s share price to $201.38, a record close.

Soft plastic

Though restaurant spending was a nice nine-digit sum, overall T&E spending growth slowed to 8% year-over-year in the last part of the year. It’s not like the start of the pandemic-era economic recovery, when recovering business spending sent revenues into double-digit growth quarter after quarter.

“We expect this growth, which has been elevated versus pre-pandemic levels, to continue to moderate as we progress through the 2024,” said CEO Stephen Squeri on a call with investors.

And just like the rest of the economy, delinquencies have started rising for AmEx’s spendy customer base as well. Nationwide, they’re at about 3%. At American Express, they’ve soared to—gasp—1.4%.

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