At American Express, Warnings About the ‘Fiscal Cliff’ | Waccabuc NY Realtor

2:14 p.m. | Updated

After the widespread (and highly visible) damage caused by Hurricane Sandy this week, worries about the fiscal cliff may not be at the forefront of most people’s minds.

The economic calamity is a lot less visual (though The Wall Street Journal did come up with this clever video), and the destructive force seems somehow in the faraway future.

But companies are already warning investors about the harsh effects of the fiscal cliff. American Express’s 10-Q quarterly report, which was filed Wednesday, included a new dire warning about the rapidly approaching year-end deadline.

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“The company expects that it will take some time for the U.S. economy to get back onto a steady, upward growth track,” the filing said. “Moreover, in the absence of legislative action, there continues to be growing concerns about the potential impact of the ‘fiscal cliff’ arising from scheduled federal spending cuts and tax increases set for the end of 2012.”

The statement goes into more detail than what the firm’s chief financial officer, Daniel T. Henry, said during the quarterly earnings call two weeks ago. Then, an analyst for the Telsey Advisory Group asked if there might be a larger impact, specifically in terms of the company’s spending on marketing.

“If things were to be better, we know exactly what we’d do. And if things were to be worse, we know exactly what we’re going to do. So we will monitor this closely,” Mr. Henry said, according to a transcript of the call. Marina Hoffmann Norville, a spokeswoman for the company, declined to comment beyond what was in the Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

American Express isn’t the only large company to mention the fiscal cliff in filings with the S.E.C. But others have been more nuanced or noncommittal on the effects. In its quarterly earnings release on Thursday, the payroll processing company Automatic Data Processing noted that “there is concern in the U.S. surrounding the fiscal cliff.” In its quarterly earnings release on Wednesday, Visa, the giant credit card company, included the “so-called fiscal cliff” in a list of economic factors that might affect the company.

Also on Thursday, Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor who just took over as president and chief executive of the Financial Services Roundtable, issued its own warning in a letter sent to President Obama and Congress.

“We urge Congress and the administration to deal with the fiscal cliff in a two-pronged approach: First, bridge over the fiscal cliff as soon as possible to minimize negative economic consequences. Second, address the federal budget deficit in a comprehensive and bipartisan manner in early 2013 to put the U.S. on a path for sustained growth,” Mr. Pawlenty wrote.

But if the Dec. 31 deadline moves closer without any indication of resolution, companies are likely to step up their disclosures in S.E.C. filings.

Michelle Leder is the editor of footnoted.com, a Web site that takes a closer look at companies’ regulatory filings.

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 1, 2012

An earlier version of this post misstated the fiscal quarters that were reported on this week by Automatic Data Processing and Visa. A.D.P.’s report was for its first quarter of 2013 and Visa’s report was for its fourth quarter of 2012, in both cases not the third quarter of 2012.

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