Can American Express charge ahead of its rivals?

Don't look for American Express (AXP)'s better-than-expected third-quarter results, announced Thursday, to presage a turnaround for other big card issuers. Most are getting socked by mounting loan losses, as cardholders contend with rising unemployment and falling home prices. And as consumers deleverage, they're spending less on credit cards and paying down balances, which means less revenue from interest and fees.

It's a different story for American Express. For the fifth straight month, the company wrote off fewer bad loans to cardholders in September. What's more, purchases on its charge cards -- which must be paid off at the end of every month -- are growing faster than those on its credit cards for the first time in at least two years.