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AmEx Shares Surge to Top of Dow After Strategic Moves Pay Off

American Express shares popped 4.7%, leading the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average higher after first-quarter earnings showed the credit card company's strategic moves beginning to pay off.

The New York-based firm's earnings of $1.34 a share in the first three months of 2017 topped the $1.28 average estimate from analysts in a FactSet survey. Revenue of $7.9 billion, which also beat projections, was up 7% when the effects of the Costco branded-card deal and currency-exchange losses were excluded.

"What surprised management was how strong revenue performance was in the month of March," Sanjay Sakhrani, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, said in a note to clients. "The company has to balance upside to results with maintaining the momentum seen as a result of the recent investments made, which will be a point of deliberation."

CEO Kenneth Chenault has ramped up promotional spending and offered higher incentive rewards for cardholders in order to replace income lost with the Costco portfolio, but the moves also helped push overall expenses up 1% to $5.5 billion. That total was curbed by...