Bottomline Technologies Inc., a prominent provider of electronic bill payment and presentment services for businesses, has warned that its latest quarter will be worse than expected because bank spending on technology has slowed.
The Portsmouth, N.H., company said Tuesday that it expects a per-share loss of up to 35 cents for the quarter that ended March 31, the third of its fiscal year. Analysts had on average expected a loss of 5 cents a share, according to Thomson Financial/First Call.
Daniel McGurl, Bottomlines chairman and chief executive officer, said the losses would force it to lay off employees, but he did not say how many.
Its a blip related to technology spending, Mr. McGurl said. He blamed delays in decision-making by potential customers.
In addition, he said, current customers are spending more slowly: Longtime customers are taking longer to commit further funds, and newly signed customers are taking longer to implement technology.
It was the second time that Bottomline had lowered its numbers for the quarter. In announcing results for the December quarter the company said it had reduced its revenue forecast for the next three months to $23 million from $25.4 million-$26.4 million; now it says it expects to report $18 million 28% more than a year ago.
Daniel R. Perlin, an analyst with Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc. in Baltimore, said the sales cycles for technology companies, until recently three to six months, is expanding to eight months to a year. That is because banks are looking more closely at potential return on investment and the long-term viability of their technology suppliers and are pushing the decision-making process to higher-level executives, he said.
As a result, Bottomline was unable to close $9 million worth of business in the latest quarter, Mr. Perlin said. It lost about $5 million of revenue, which caused it to miss his revenue target by 22%.
He added that Bottomlines problems will probably continue for several quarters.
The companys shares closed at $3.38 Friday, down 48% from a week earlier.
The trouble at Bottomline, which counts Citigroup Inc. and FleetBoston Financial Corp. among its customers, raises the specter that other providers of technology to banks may soon feel the effects of a slowing economy.
Discretionary spending is one of the first things to go in this market, and business-to-business electronic bill payment and presentment is discretionary, Mr. Perlin said. During this kind of uncertainty, financial institutions are taking a much more precise look at where they are spending money.
Though electronic billing may ultimately save banks money, the implementation costs and the burden of initially having to process both paper and electronic payments will cause a negative return on investment in the short term, Mr. Perlin said.
Jeetu Patel, vice president of research at Doculabs, a Chicago consulting firm, predicted a slowdown not just in the B-to-B payment and presentment sector but across the board in spending related to e-business technology.
The ability to withstand these blows in a turbulent economy is what is going to separate the men from the boys, Mr. Patel said. The surviving companies will be those with capital and the ability to curtail unnecessary spending, he said.