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AmEx Troubles: Some Cardholders Can Leave Home Without It

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In this Jan. 20, 2010 file photo, American Express cards are posed for a photograph in Phoenix. Amex’s stock is down 11 percent this year, making it the second-biggest decliner on the Dow Jones industrial average. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

In this Jan. 20, 2010 file photo, American Express cards are posed for a photograph in Phoenix. Amex’’s stock is down 11 percent this year, making it the second-biggest decliner on the Dow Jones industrial average. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

KEN SWEET, AP Business Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — For decades, American Express was the undisputed credit card of choice among corporate road warriors, the wealthy and the well-traveled, who lived by the company’s slogan, “Don’t leave home without it.”

But changing consumer habits, extremely aggressive competition and increased pushback from its merchants are putting heavy pressure on AmEx.

Rivals are trying to steal away business and are succeeding in some cases. Costco, for example, is ending its 15-year relationship with AmEx and defecting to Citigroup and Visa starting next March. And airlines that used to give VIP lounge access to AmEx cardholders have been switching in recent years to other credit card companies.

Compounding its troubles, AmEx recently lost a major government antitrust lawsuit, a verdict that could damage its ability to compete.

“The competitive environment for AmEx is very challenging,” said Jason Arnold, a Wall Street analyst who covers AmEx for RBS Securities. “Major competitors have all directed their efforts to take chunks away from their business. They’ve got serious problems.”

As a result, American Express stock is down 12 percent this year. Analysts, on average, have cut their 2015 profit forecast from $6.2 billion to $5.6 billion. AmEx recently announced 4,000 layoffs, or about 6 percent of its workforce. And CEO Kenneth Chenault will face a skeptical Wall Street audience Wednesday at the company’s annual investor day.

One of the biggest threats to AmEx is the slew of competing cards aimed at the well-to-do, sometimes with lower annual fees. Card issuers have energetically courted merchants who used to accept only American Express. Merchants who once coveted AmEx’s high-net-worth cardholders are discovering they can find the same customers elsewhere.

Citigroup, in particular, has been going after AmEx’s core customer. Citigroup has hired executives away from AmEx over the past few years to help it overhaul its credit cards and revamp its loyalty program, known as ThankYou. Citi Cards CEO Jud Linville, for example, worked at AmEx for nearly 20 years.

The capture of Costco by Citigroup and Visa was the biggest blow to AmEx. The warehouse-club chain accounted for $80 billion of spending on AmEx’s network last year and 10 percent of AmEx’s cards.

“Costco was a real punch in the gut,” said David Robertson, publisher of the Nilson Report, a major trade journal for the credit card industry.

Citi also recently created a card called Citi Prestige, a high-annual-fee card aimed at AmEx Platinum Card holders.

“Citi’s ThankYou program, a year and a half ago, was pretty much worthless,” said Brian Kelly, editor in chief of thepointsguy.com, a travel and credit card rewards tracking website. “But over the past year Citi has really started to get into the game. They are not at a Chase or AmEx level yet, but based on where they have gone in a short amount of time, they’re becoming quite formidable.”

JPMorgan Chase introduced its own reward cards in 2009 with a program similar to AmEx’s. It is called Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Airport lounge access was once a perk basically guaranteed by AmEx. But American Airlines switched allegiance last year, turning over exclusive access to lounges to Citi cardholders. AmEx cardholders lost access to United Continental’s lounges in 2011 and lost the ability to transfer their points to United in 2012.

Even Discover Financial has gotten into the game. Last month, it introduced a credit card focused on building up miles that can be redeemed for travel.

AmEx hasn’t sat idle. To generate revenue, it has raised annual fees and interest rates on some products. It has also added perks for its customers, such as waiving foreign transaction fees and giving a $100 credit for incidental airline expenses for Gold Card members.

And when AmEx parted ways with United Continental, it went ahead and opened its own airport lounges. It has 13 worldwide so far, with plans to open more this year.

“American Express is still the gold standard when it comes to their rewards program, but lately it seems like all they’re doing is playing catch-up,” Kelly said.

While competitors have been moving upmarket, AmEx in response has been moving in the opposite direction. It now has two pre-paid debit cards, one of them with Wal-Mart. Pre-paid debit cards are typically aimed at low-income consumers who may not have checking accounts. The company also launched a no-annual-fee credit card last year aimed at “everyday” purchases — not the travel-heavy, corporate-expense-account business AmEx is known for.

AmEx isn’t going to let Citi walk away with its Costco card customers without a fight, either. It plans to spend aggressively to try to keep some of them because roughly 70 percent of spending on those cards was done outside the stores, according to AmEx.

“I don’t think there’s anything structurally wrong at AmEx,” said Sanjay Sakhrani, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. “They’re going to get in front of the revenue they are going to lose next year when the Costco relationship ends.”

Along with increased competition, AmEx is facing heavier regulatory pressure. Last month, the Justice Department won an antitrust lawsuit against American Express over its practice of making merchants sign agreements not to express a preference for one card over another.

If AmEx loses on appeal, merchants will be free to express their preferences, and that could force the company to lower the percent it charges them to process cards. That would be a drastic hit to AmEx’s bottom line, and company executives have acknowledged as much.

During the trial last summer, AmEx’s Chenault said the company would be “fighting for our survival” if it lost the case.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Activism

African American Sports & Entertainment Group (AASEG) helps support 25th annual turkey drive in East Oakland

Assembymember Mia Bonta said,”I am excited and fully in support of the City Council’s decision to prioritize an African American-led, Oakland rooted, development group to negotiate how we can reimagine the Coliseum site. This represents a promise of development without displacement, and amenities and entertainment that East Oakland once had and deserves again. This is also the kind of community-led, wealth building opportunity l will fight for at the state level, and I will continue to support initiatives like these here in the 18th Assembly District.”

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The African American Sports & Entertainment Group came out to support the 25th annual Community Giving Foundation Turkey drive at Verdese Carter Park in East Oakland.

Hosted by founder and organizer Marlon McWilson, the turkey drive that started in 1997 has now donated over 35,000 Turkey’s through McWilson’s foundation. In attendance were Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong, Oakland PAL, California Assembly Member Mia Bonta (AD-18) along with husband and Attorney General for the State of California Rob Bonta. Assembly Member Bonta also congratulated the AASEG on their recent unanimous 8-0 approval to enter negotiations with the City of Oakland on an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) to purchase the city’s half interest of the coliseum land, and looks forward to working with the team.

Assembymember Mia Bonta said,”I am excited and fully in support of the City Council’s decision to prioritize an African American-led, Oakland rooted, development group to negotiate how we can reimagine the Coliseum site. This represents a promise of development without displacement, and amenities and entertainment that East Oakland once had and deserves again. This is also the kind of community-led, wealth building opportunity l will fight for at the state level, and I will continue to support initiatives like these here in the 18th Assembly District.”

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California Moving into Next Budget Year With a $31 Billion Surplus, Analysts Say

“Under our current law and policy approach, we estimate the general fund revenue will reach $202 billion in the budget year and result in a surplus of about $31 billion for that budget year,” said Gabriel Petek, legislative analyst of the State of California, referring to LAO’s projections for fiscal year 2022-23.

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California has the strongest economy of any state in the country with an estimated Gross State Product of $3.0 trillion. If it were a country, California would be the fifth-largest economy in the world.
California has the strongest economy of any state in the country with an estimated Gross State Product of $3.0 trillion. If it were a country, California would be the fifth-largest economy in the world.

By Tanu Henry, California Black Media

California is expected to move into the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2022, with a whopping $31 billion surplus, according to estimates from the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO).

The LAO announced the anticipated surplus during a news briefing last week.

“Under our current law and policy approach, we estimate the general fund revenue will reach $202 billion in the budget year and result in a surplus of about $31 billion for that budget year,” said Gabriel Petek, legislative analyst of the State of California, referring to LAO’s projections for fiscal year 2022-23.

Petek said the large surplus reflects a number of trends. Among them are surpluses in the state current operating budget, money left in the economic reserve from the last fiscal year, higher revenues than projected for the last two years, etc.

“Revenue collections have grown rapidly in recent months, coming in over $10 billion ahead of budget act expectations so far this year. Underlying this growth is a meteoric rise in several measures of economic activity,” LAO report reads.

That windfall in the state reserve could mean a rebate for taxpayers or more money for education and other public spending.

State spending is expected to reach a cap set by California voters through a ballot measure in 1979 called the Gann Limit. When that happens, the state is compelled to return money to taxpayers by lowering taxes, sending out rebates or spending money on education.

Salena Pryor, president of the California Black Small Business Association (BSBA) says she is encouraged by the investments the state has made to aid small businesses and to improve the overall economic outlook for Californians most impacted by the pandemic.

She hopes the state will use monies from the surplus to sustain some of its initial investments.

“There is still a lot more work to do. Forty-one percent of Black small businesses have closed permanently due to COVID-19, so further investments into start-ups and restarts would greatly benefit our community,” she said.

California has the strongest economy of any state in the country with an estimated Gross State Product of $3.0 trillion. If it were a country, California would be the fifth-largest economy in the world.

“California has no peers – continues to have no peers. We are world-beating in terms of our economic growth,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaking at the California Economic Summit earlier this month.

“In the last five years, no western democracy has outperformed the state of California. The United States has not… Germany, Japan, the U.K… no other western democracy has outperformed this state in our economic output of 21% GDP over the last five years.”

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New California “Strike Force” Gives Teeth to State Housing Laws

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said that California’s 17 million renters spend a significant portion of their paychecks on rent, with an estimated 700,000 Californians at risk of eviction. High home purchase costs — the median price of a single-family home in California is more than $800,000 — have led to the lowest homeownership rates since the 1940s.

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The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.
The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.

By Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media

To advance housing access, affordability and equity, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced earlier this month the creation of a Housing Strike Force.

The team, housed within the California Department of Justice (Cal DOJ) has been tasked with enforcing California housing laws that cities across the state have been evading or ignoring.

The strike force will conduct a series of roundtables across the state to educate and involve tenants and homeowners as the state puts pressure on municipalities failing to follow housing rules and falling short of housing production goals set by the state.

“California is facing a housing shortage and affordability crisis of epic proportion,” Bonta said. “Every day, millions of Californians worry about keeping a roof over their heads, and there are too many across this state who lack housing altogether.

“This is a top priority and a fight we won’t back down from. As Attorney General, I am committed to using all the tools my office has available to advance Californians’ fundamental right to housing.”

The Housing Strike Force will take “an innovative and intersectional approach” to addressing the housing crisis, focusing on tenant protections, housing availability and environmental sustainability, housing affordability, and equitable and fair housing opportunity for tenants and owners.

Bonta also launched a Housing Portal on the Cal DOJ’s web site with resources and information for California homeowners and tenants.

The strike force will enlist the expertise of attorneys from the Cal DOJ’s Land Use and Conservation Section, the Consumer Protection Section, the Civil Rights Enforcement Section, and the Environment Section’s Bureau of Environmental Justice in its enforcement efforts.

“California has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address its housing crisis, thanks to the historic $22 billion housing and homelessness investments in this year’s budget. But it’ll only work if local governments do their part to zone and permit new housing,” Governor Gavin Newsom said. “The attorney general’s emphasis on holding cities and counties accountable for fair housing, equity, and housing production is an important component to the state’s efforts to tackle the affordability crisis and create greater opportunities for all Californians to have an affordable place to call home.”

According to the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), the level of Black ownership nationally has decreased below levels achieved during the decades when housing discrimination was legal.

The 2020 census reports that there was a 29.6% gap between homeownership rates for African Americans and whites. Homeowners accounted for 44.6% of the Black population as compared to 74.2% for whites.

“Blacks have made little, if any, strides at closing the homeownership gap. Systemic discriminatory regulations and policies continue to thwart any meaningful effort at increasing Black homeownership,” Lydia Pope, NAREB’s president, said.

In California, the DOJ reports that over the last four decades, housing needs have outpaced housing production. It has caused a crisis that stretches from homelessness to unaffordable homes.

Despite significant effort, the DOJ stated that California continues to host a disproportionate share of people experiencing homelessness in the United States, with an estimated 150,000 Californians sleeping in shelters, in their cars, or on the street.

Bonta said that California’s 17 million renters spend a significant portion of their paychecks on rent, with an estimated 700,000 Californians at risk of eviction. High home purchase costs — the median price of a single-family home in California is more than $800,000 — have led to the lowest homeownership rates since the 1940s.

Due to decades of systemic racism, these challenges have continuously and disproportionately impacted communities of color. For example, Bonta said, almost half of Black households in California spend more than 30% of their income on housing, compared with only a third of White families.

In addition, less than one in five Black California households could afford to purchase the $659,380 statewide median-priced home in 2020, compared to two in five white California households that could afford to purchase the same median-priced home, the California Association Realtors (CAR) said in a February 2021 statement.

The percentage of Black home buyers who could afford to purchase a median-priced, existing single-family home in California in 2020 was 19%, compared to 38% for white households, CAR stated.

“Just as the price for a single-median home reaches a new record of more than $800,000 in California, everywhere you look, we are in a housing crisis,” Bonta said during the virtual news conference on Nov. 3.

“Among all households, one in four renters pays more than half of their income on rent.”

The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.

Earlier this year, Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 215, enhancing the attorney general’s concurrent role in enforcing state housing laws.

AB 215 was designed for reforms, facilitating housing development and combating the current housing crisis.

Newsom also signed Senate Bill (SB) 9 and SB 10 in September, legislation designed to help increase the supply of affordable housing and speed up the production of multi-family housing units statewide.

Authored by Senate President Pro Tem Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), SB 9 allows a homeowner to subdivide an existing single-family residential lot to create a duplex, triplex, or fourplex.

In response to SB 9, homeowner groups have formed across the state to oppose it. The groups are citing challenges they anticipate the law will bring to their communities, from garbage collection to increased risk of fires.

Livable California, a San Francisco-based non-profit that focuses on housing, is one of the groups that opposes the new laws.

“Senate Bill 9 ends single-family zoning to allow four homes where one now stands. It was signed by Gov. Newsom, backed by 73 of 120 legislators and praised by many media. Yet a respected pollster found 71% of California voters oppose SB 9,” the Livable California website reads.

“It opens 1.12 million homes in severe fire zones to unmanaged density — one-sixth of single-family homes in California,” the message continues. “SB 9 could reshape, in unwanted ways, hundreds of high-risk fire zones that sprawl across California’s urban and rural areas.”

But Newsom says the laws are urgent and overdue.

“The housing affordability crisis is undermining the California Dream for families across the state, and threatens our long-term growth and prosperity,” Newsom said in a Sept. 16 statement.

SB 10 was designed for jurisdictions that want to opt-in and up-zone urbanized areas close to transit, allowing up to 10 units per parcel without the oversight of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“Passing strong housing laws is only the first step. To tackle our severe housing shortage, those laws must be consistently and vigorously enforced,” said California State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), chair of the Senate Housing Committee. “I applaud Attorney General Bonta’s commitment to strong enforcement of California’s housing laws.”

The Housing Strike Force encourages Californians to send complaints or tips related to housing to housing@doj.ca.gov. Information on legal aid in your area is available at https://lawhelpca.org.

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