American Express (AXP) reported a 12% increase in earnings Wednesday on the strength of improvements in credit quality, cuts in expenses and a modest boost in revenue.

The credit card issuer's first-quarter net income was $1.43 billion, up from $1.28 billion in the same period a year earlier. Earnings per share rose by 16% to $1.33, which nudged past the $1.30 consensus projected by analysts.

Revenue at Amex rose by 4% to $8.2 billion, while consolidated expenses fell by 1% to $5.5 billion.

"We are off to a good start to 2014," American Express Chief Executive Kenneth Chenault said in a news release, "thanks to disciplined expense control, credit metrics near their historic low, higher revenues and a strong balance sheet that allows us to return a substantial amount of capital to shareholders."

New York-based American Express reported loss provisions of $485 million, up 17% from a year earlier. A smaller reserve release in the first quarter was partially offset by lower net writeoffs, the company said.

Global spending on Amex cards rose 6%, according to the company. While operating expenses fell by 4%, some of that reduction was offset by an increase in the cost of providing rewards to American Express card holders.

The card company reported a return on average equity of 28.3% in the first quarter, up from 23.2% in the same period last year.

American Express earns more than half of its net income from its U.S. card business, and the firm's domestic card segment fared better in the first quarter than the international card business.

In U.S. card services, net income was up 9%, revenues were up 5%, and expenses rose by 1%. Meanwhile in international card services, net income fell by 11%, revenues were up 3%, and expenses rose by 2%.

The company's global commercial services division reported a 4% decline in net income, as expenses rose, primarily because of costs related to a global business travel venture.

During the first quarter, Amex launched new initiatives aimed at persuading more small merchants to accept its cards, and at capturing a larger share of everyday spending by U.S. consumers.

"These initiatives are aimed at helping us reach additional segments of the market," Chenault said in the news release. "They put us in a stronger position to grow over the medium and long term."

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