American Express Co posted much higher fourth quarter profit, helped by rising consumer spending and lower credit losses.

The credit card lender and payment network said net income rose to $716 million, or 60 cents a share, from $240 million, or 21 cents a share in the same quarter a year earlier.

American Express suffered big credit losses in 2008 and 2009 after boosting its lending earlier this decade, but losses began stabilizing last year. The company is now looking to focus its efforts on charge cards, where customers have to pay off the balance every month.

American Express' shares rose more than 115 percent last year, handily outpacing the Standard & Poor's 500 index's <.SPX> increase of 23 percent, as it turned in earnings throughout the economic downturn and emerged as one of the stronger financial companies.

(Reporting by Dan Wilchins and Christian Plumb; editing by Carol Bishopric)