NEW YORK — American Express Co. executives told investors Wednesday that delinquencies are growing less than in previous quarters, and that the new business environment for credit-card companies will negatively impact returns.

Chairman and Chief Executive Kenneth Chenault said during a conference in New York, sponsored by Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., that delinquencies stabilized; he expects the company's loan loss ratios to climb between 200 basis points and 250 basis points this quarter, from 8.5% in the first quarter. Assuming unemployment reaches 9.7%, third-quarter loan losses are expected to rise another 50 basis points, and remain flat in the fourth.

Chenault and Chief Financial Officer Daniel Henry also gave investors some sense of what to expect from the new regulatory and business environment for card companies. The CEO said that after the recovery, consumer spending will be financed by income and savings rather than debt. That means credit card lending will "play less of a role," which would put American Express at a competitive advantage because its charge card business relies less on interest rates and more on fees.

Big banks will also narrow their business focus, leaving Amex more room to grow. And the new credit-card law will result in more card lenders charging annual or membership fees, as Amex does for its charge cards and other products.

Further, Chenault predicted that "greater regulatory activity" and "greater scrutiny" will continue even after the crisis; capital levels will likely have to remain higher than before the crisis.

That could eat into companies' return on equity. CFO Henry said he expects Amex's ROE to be "north of 20%" longer term, but exactly how high it will go remains unclear. Overall economic growth will be slower than before the crisis, Chenault predicted.

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