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Basis of Presentation (Policies)
6 Months Ended
Jun. 30, 2011
Fair Value [Abstract]  
Fair Values

Fair value is defined as the price that would be received to sell an asset or paid to transfer a liability (an exit price) in an orderly transaction between market participants at the measurement date, and is based on the Company's principal or most advantageous market for the specific asset or liability.

 

U.S. generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) provide for a three-level hierarchy of inputs to valuation techniques used to measure fair value, defined as follows:

 

  • Level 1 Inputs that are quoted prices (unadjusted) for identical assets or liabilities in active markets.
  • Level 2 Inputs other than quoted prices included within Level 1 that are observable for the asset or liability, either directly or indirectly, for substantially the full term of the asset or liability, including:

              -       Quoted prices for similar assets or liabilities in active markets

              -        Quoted prices for identical or similar assets or liabilities in markets that are not active

              -        Inputs other than quoted prices that are observable for the asset or liability

       -       Inputs that are derived principally from or corroborated by observable market data by correlation or other means

  • Level 3 Inputs that are unobservable and reflect the Company's own assumptions about the assumptions market participants would use in pricing the asset or liability based on the best information available in the circumstances (e.g., internally derived assumptions surrounding the timing and amount of expected cash flows).
Accounts Receivable And Loans and Reserves For Cardmember Losses [Abstract]  
Cardmember Receivables and Loans and Reserves for Losses

Cardmember and Other Receivables

Cardmember receivables, representing amounts due from charge payment product customers, are recorded at the time a cardmember enters into a point-of-sale transaction with a merchant. Each charge card transaction is authorized based on its likely economics reflecting a cardmember's most recent credit information and spend patterns. Global limits are established to limit the maximum exposure for the Company from high risk and some high spend charge cardmembers, and accounts of high risk, out-of-pattern charge cardmembers can be monitored even if they are current. Charge card customers generally must pay the full amount billed each month.

 

Cardmember receivable balances are presented on the Consolidated Balance Sheets net of reserves for losses (refer to Note 5), and include principal and any related accrued fees.

Cardmember and Other Loans

Cardmember loans, representing amounts due from lending payment product customers, are recorded at the time a cardmember enters into a point-of-sale transaction with a merchant or when a charge card customer enters into an extended payment arrangement. The Company's lending portfolios primarily include revolving loans to cardmembers obtained through either their credit card accounts or the lending on charge feature of their charge card accounts. These loans have a range of terms such as credit limits, interest rates, fees and payment structures, which can be adjusted over time based on new information about cardmembers and in accordance with applicable regulations and the respective product's terms and conditions. Cardmembers holding revolving loans are typically required to make monthly payments greater than or equal to certain pre-established amounts. The amounts that cardmembers choose to revolve are subject to finance charges. When cardmembers fall behind their required payments, their accounts are monitored.

 

Cardmember loans are presented on the Consolidated Balance Sheets net of reserves for losses and unamortized net card fees and include accrued interest and fees receivable. The Company's policy generally is to cease accruing for interest receivable on a cardmember loan at the time the account is written off. The Company establishes reserves for interest that the Company believes will not be collected.

Impaired Loans and Receivables

Impaired loans and receivables are defined by GAAP as individual larger balance or homogeneous pools of smaller balance restructured loans and receivables for which it is probable that the lender will be unable to collect all amounts due according to the original contractual terms of the loan and receivable agreement. The Company considers impaired loans and receivables to include: (i) loans over 90 days past due still accruing interest, (ii) non-accrual loans, and (iii) loans and receivables modified in a troubled debt restructuring (TDR).

 

The Company may modify, through various company sponsored programs, cardmember loans and receivables in instances where the cardmember is experiencing financial difficulty to minimize losses to the Company while providing cardmembers with temporary or permanent financial relief. The Company has classified cardmember loans and receivables in these modification programs as TDRs. Such modifications may include reducing the interest rate (as low as zero percent, in which case the loan is characterized as non-accrual in our TDR disclosures) or delinquency fees on the loans and receivables and/or placing the cardmember on a fixed payment plan not exceeding 60 months. In accordance with the modification agreement with the cardmember, loans with modified terms will revert back to their original contractual terms (including their contractual interest rate) when they exit the TDR program, either (i) when all payments have been made in accordance with the modification agreement or (ii) in the event that a payment is not made and the cardmember defaults out of the program. In either case, in accordance with its normal policy, the Company establishes a reserve for cardmember interest charges that it believes will not be collected.

 

The performance of a TDR is closely monitored to understand its impact on the Company's reserve for losses. Though the ultimate success of these modification programs remains uncertain, the Company believes they improve the cumulative loss performance of such loans and receivables.

 

Reserves for a TDR are determined by the difference between cash flows expected to be received from the cardmember discounted at the original effective interest rates and the carrying value of the cardmember loan or receivable balance.

 

Reserves for losses relating to cardmember loans and receivables represent management's best estimate of the losses inherent in the Company's outstanding portfolio of loans and receivables. Management's evaluation process requires certain estimates and judgments.

 

Reserves for these losses are primarily based upon models that analyze portfolio performance and reflect management's judgment regarding overall reserve adequacy. The analytic models take into account several factors, including average losses and recoveries over an appropriate historical period. Management considers whether to adjust the analytic models for specific factors such as increased risk in certain portfolios, impact of risk management initiatives on portfolio performance and concentration of credit risk based on factors such as tenure, industry or geographic regions. In addition, management adjusts the reserves for losses on cardmember loans for other external environmental factors including leading economic and market indicators such as the unemployment rate, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), home price indices, non-farm payrolls, personal consumption expenditures index, consumer confidence index, purchasing managers index, bankruptcy filings and the legal and regulatory environment. Generally, due to the short-term nature of cardmember receivables, the impact of additional external factors on the inherent losses within the cardmember receivable portfolio is not significant. As part of this evaluation process, management also considers various reserve coverage metrics, such as reserves as a percentage of past due amounts, reserves as a percentage of cardmember receivables or loans and net write-off coverage.

       

Cardmember loans and receivables balances are written off when management deems amounts to be uncollectible and is generally determined by the number of days past due, which is generally no later than 180 days past due. Cardmember loans and receivables in bankruptcy or owed by deceased individuals are written off upon notification. Recoveries are recognized on a cash basis.

Investments [Abstract]  
Investments

Investment securities include debt and equity securities and are classified as available for sale. The Company's investment securities, principally debt securities, are carried at fair value on the Consolidated Balance Sheets with unrealized gains (losses) recorded in Accumulated Other Comprehensive Income (AOCI), net of income tax provisions (benefits). Realized gains and losses are recognized in results of operations upon disposition of the securities using the specific identification method on a trade date basis. Refer to Note 3 for a description of the Company's methodology for determining the fair value of its investment securities.

Other-Than-Temporary Impairment

Realized losses are recognized upon management's determination that a decline in fair value is other than temporary. The determination of other-than-temporary impairment is a subjective process, requiring the use of judgments and assumptions regarding the amount and timing of recovery. The Company reviews and evaluates its investments at least quarterly and more often, as market conditions may require, to identify investments that have indications of other-than-temporary impairments. It is reasonably possible that a change in estimate could occur in the near term relating to other-than-temporary impairment. Accordingly, the Company considers several factors when evaluating debt securities for other-than-temporary impairment including the determination of the extent to which the decline in fair value of the security is due to increased default risk for the specific issuer or market interest rate risk. With respect to increased default risk, the Company assesses the collectibility of principal and interest payments by monitoring issuers' credit ratings, related changes to those ratings, specific credit events associated with the individual issuers as well as the credit ratings of a financial guarantor, where applicable, and the extent to which amortized cost exceeds fair value and the duration and size of that difference. With respect to market interest rate risk, including benchmark interest rates and credit spreads, the Company assesses whether it has the intent to sell the securities and whether it is more likely than not that the Company will not be required to sell the securities before recovery of any unrealized losses.

In assessing default risk on these investment securities, the Company has qualitatively considered the key factors identified above and determined that it expects to collect all of the contractual cash flows due on the investment securities.

 

Overall, for the investment securities in gross unrealized loss positions identified above, (a) the Company does not intend to sell the investment securities, (b) it is more likely than not that the Company will not be required to sell the investment securities before recovery of the unrealized losses, and (c) the Company expects that the contractual principal and interest will be received on the investment securities. As a result, the Company recognized no other-than-temporary impairments during the six months ended June 30, 2011 or the year ended December 31, 2010.

 

Asset Securitization [Abstract]  
Asset Securitizations

Charge Trust and Lending Trust

The Company periodically securitizes cardmember receivables and loans arising from its card business through the transfer of those assets to securitization trusts. The trusts then issue securities to third-party investors, collateralized by the transferred assets.

 

Cardmember receivables are transferred to the Charge Trust and cardmember loans are transferred to the Lending Trust. The Charge Trust and the Lending Trust are consolidated by American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc. (TRS), which is a consolidated subsidiary of the Company. The trusts are considered VIEs as they have insufficient equity at risk to finance their activities, which are to issue securities that are collateralized by the underlying cardmember receivables and loans.

 

TRS, in its role as servicer of the Charge Trust and the Lending Trust, has the power to direct the most significant activity of the trusts, which is the collection of the underlying cardmember receivables and loans in the trusts. In addition, TRS owns approximately $1.0 billion of subordinated securities issued by the Lending Trust as of June 30, 2011. These subordinated securities have the obligation to absorb losses of the Lending Trust and provide the right to receive benefits from the Lending Trust, both of which are significant to the VIE. TRS' role as servicer for the Charge Trust does not provide it with a significant obligation to absorb losses or a significant right to receive benefits. However, TRS' position as the parent company of the entities that transferred the receivables to the Charge Trust makes it the party most closely related to the Charge Trust. Based on these considerations, TRS was determined to be the primary beneficiary of both the Charge Trust and the Lending Trust.

 

The debt securities issued by the Charge Trust and the Lending Trust are non-recourse to the Company. Securitized cardmember receivables and loans held by the Charge Trust and the Lending Trust are available only for payment of the debt securities or other obligations issued or arising in the securitization transactions. The long-term debt of each trust is payable only out of collections on their respective underlying securitized assets.

Derivatives And Hedging Activities [Abstract]  
Derivatives Policy

Derivative Financial Instruments that Qualify for Hedge Accounting

Derivatives executed for hedge accounting purposes are documented and designated as such when the Company enters into the contracts. In accordance with its risk management policies, the Company structures its hedges with very similar terms to the hedged items. The Company formally assesses, at inception of the hedge accounting relationship and on a quarterly basis, whether derivatives designated as hedges are highly effective in offsetting the fair value or cash flows of the hedged items. These assessments usually are made through the application of a regression analysis method. If it is determined that a derivative is not highly effective as a hedge, the Company will discontinue the application of hedge accounting.

 

Fair Value Hedges

A fair value hedge involves a derivative designated to hedge the Company's exposure to future changes in the fair value of an asset or a liability, or an identified portion thereof that is attributable to a particular risk. The Company is exposed to interest rate risk associated with its fixed-rate long-term debt. The Company uses interest rate swaps to synthetically convert certain fixed-rate long-term debt obligations to floating-rate obligations at the time of issuance. As of June 30, 2011 and December 31, 2010, the Company hedged $16.4 billion and $15.9 billion, respectively, of its fixed-rate debt to floating-rate debt using interest rate swaps.

 

To the extent the fair value hedge is effective, the gain or loss on the hedging instrument offsets the loss or gain on the hedged item attributable to the hedged risk. Any difference between the changes in the fair value of the derivative and the hedged item is referred to as hedge ineffectiveness and is reflected in earnings as a component of other, net expenses. Hedge ineffectiveness may be caused by differences between the debt's interest coupon and the benchmark rate, which are primarily due to credit spreads at inception of the hedging relationship that are not reflected in the valuation of the interest rate swap. Furthermore, hedge ineffectiveness may be caused by changes in the relationship between 3-month LIBOR and 1-month LIBOR rates, as these so-called basis spreads may impact the valuation of the interest rate swap without causing an offsetting impact in the value of the hedged debt. If a fair value hedge is de-designated or no longer considered to be effective, changes in fair value of the derivative continue to be recorded through earnings but the hedged asset or liability is no longer adjusted for changes in fair value due to changes in interest rates. The existing basis adjustment of the hedged asset or liability is then amortized or accreted as an adjustment to yield over the remaining life of that asset or liability.

Cash Flow Hedges

A cash flow hedge involves a derivative designated to hedge the Company's exposure to variable future cash flows attributable to a particular risk. Such exposures may relate to either an existing recognized asset or liability or a forecasted transaction. The Company hedges existing long-term variable-rate debt, the rollover of short-term borrowings and the anticipated forecasted issuance of additional funding through the use of derivatives, primarily interest rate swaps. These derivative instruments synthetically convert floating-rate debt obligations to fixed-rate obligations for the duration of the instrument. As of June 30, 2011 and December 31, 2010, the Company hedged $784 million and $1.3 billion of its floating-rate debt using interest rate swaps, respectively.

 

For derivatives designated as cash flow hedges, the effective portion of the gain or loss on the derivatives is recorded in AOCI and reclassified into earnings when the hedged cash flows are recognized in earnings. The amount that is reclassified into earnings is presented in the Consolidated Statements of Income in the same line item in which the hedged instrument or transaction is recognized, primarily in interest expense. Any ineffective portion of the gain or loss on the derivatives is reported as a component of other, net expenses. If a cash flow hedge is de-designated or terminated prior to maturity, the amount previously recorded in AOCI is recognized into earnings over the period that the hedged item impacts earnings. If a hedge relationship is discontinued because it is probable that the forecasted transaction will not occur according to the original strategy, any related amounts previously recorded in AOCI are recognized into earnings immediately.

 

In the normal course of business, as the hedged cash flows are recognized into earnings, the Company expects to reclassify $0.1 million of net pretax losses on derivatives from AOCI into earnings during the next 12 months.

Net Investment Hedges

A net investment hedge is used to hedge future changes in currency exposure of a net investment in a foreign operation. The Company primarily designates foreign currency derivatives, typically foreign exchange forwards, and on occasion foreign currency denominated debt, as hedges of net investments in certain foreign operations. These instruments reduce exposure to changes in currency exchange rates on the Company's investments in non-U.S. subsidiaries. The effective portion of the gain or loss on net investment hedges is recorded in AOCI as part of the cumulative translation adjustment. Any ineffective portion of the gain or loss on net investment hedges is recognized in other, net expenses during the period of change.

Derivatives Not Designated as Hedges

The Company has derivatives that act as economic hedges, but are not designated as such for hedge accounting purposes. Foreign currency transactions and non-U.S. dollar cash flow exposures from time to time may be partially or fully economically hedged through foreign currency contracts, primarily foreign exchange forwards, options and cross-currency swaps. These hedges generally mature within one year. Foreign currency contracts involve the purchase and sale of a designated currency at an agreed upon rate for settlement on a specified date. The changes in the fair value of the derivatives effectively offset the related foreign exchange gains or losses on the underlying balance sheet exposures. From time to time, the Company may enter into interest rate swaps to specifically manage funding costs related to its proprietary card business.

 

The Company has certain operating agreements whose payments may be linked to a market rate or price, primarily foreign currency rates. The payment components embedded in these agreements may meet the definition of a derivative, which is assessed to determine if it requires separate accounting and reporting. If so, the embedded derivative is accounted for separately and is classified as a foreign exchange contract based on its primary risk exposure. In addition, the Company also holds an investment security containing an embedded equity-linked derivative.        

 

For derivatives that are not designated as hedges, changes in fair value are reported in current period earnings.

Contingencies [Abstract]  
Contingencies policy

The Company has recorded liabilities for certain of its outstanding legal proceedings and governmental examinations. A liability is accrued when it is both (a) probable that a loss with respect to the legal proceeding has occurred and (b) the amount of loss can be reasonably estimated although, as discussed below, there may be an exposure to loss in excess of the accrued liability. The Company evaluates, on a quarterly basis, developments in legal proceedings and governmental examinations that could cause an increase or decrease in the amount of the liability that has been previously accrued.

Guarantees [Abstract]  
Guarantees, Indemnifications and Warranties Policies The Company’s initial recognition of guarantees is at fair value, which has been determined in accordance with GAAP governing fair value measurement. In addition, the Company establishes reserves when an unfavorable outcome is probable and the amount of the loss can be reasonably estimated.