American Express exceeded its quarterly profit estimates today as it released more than $1 billion worth of funds it had set aside to cover potential coronavirus loan losses.

The outlook for card companies is improving as government stimulus and vaccine rollouts fuel an economic recovery.

This is helping the industry recover from a pandemic-driven slump in non-essential consumer spending last year.

"We view 2021 as a transition year, where we are focused on making investments to rebuild growth momentum in our core business", the company's chief executive Stephen Squeri said in a statement.

Consultancy firm McKinsey said in a report last month that overall credit-card spending is recovering, with figures for the last six months matching the pre-pandemic levels recorded a year earlier.

In the first quarter, American Express posted a benefit of $675m from the release of $1.05 billion from its loan-loss reserves. It had built reserves of $1.7 billion a year earlier.

Net income rose to $2.74 per share from 41 cents per share a year earlier, beating analysts' estimates of $1.61 per share, Refinitiv IBES data showed.

The credit card issuer's total revenue, excluding interest expense, fell 12% to around $9 billion.

Travel and entertainment-related spending on AmEx cards, adjusted for foreign exchange fluctuations, fell 50% as people continued to hunker down at home.

But spending on goods and services on AmEx cards rose 6% from a year earlier on a forex adjusted basis.