CheckFree Corp. reaffirmed its position as the leading financial provider of electronic commerce products and services after reporting favorable earnings last week for its fiscal 2001, but analysts and investors remained worried about the economy’s effect on its growth.

CheckFree topped analysts’ estimates, reporting a pro forma loss of $800,000, or 1 cent a share, for its fourth quarter, ended June 30, compared with a loss of $3.3 million, or 6 cents a share, a year earlier.

For fiscal 2001, the pro forma loss was $14.8 million, compared with the fiscal 2000 loss of $10.3 million. And the per-share loss narrowed slightly, to 18 cents a share, from 19 cents.

Analysts had estimated a loss of 2 cents for the fourth quarter and 20 cents for the fiscal year, according to Thomson Financial/First Call. Norcross, Ga.-based CheckFree reported revenue of $121.8 million for the fourth quarter, a 38% increase, and full-year revenue of $433.3 million, a 40% rise.

The 20-year-old electronic billing and payment vendor in April had estimated fourth-quarter revenue at $116 million to $121 million.

“The significant gains we made across each of our divisions this fiscal year should enable us to meaningfully extend our leadership in each market we serve,” Pete Kight, CheckFree’s chairman and chief executive officer, said in a conference call after the company reported the results Tuesday, “as well as to deliver more of our top-line growth to the bottom line in fiscal 2002.”

Although the results exceeded expectations, analysts responded with caution.

“They clearly have market share and really built a nice system,” said David Easthope, an analyst at Friedman Billings Ramsey & Co. “The question is, are consumers going to flock to this product? And the issue is, how big is the market going to be?”

On Wednesday, CheckFree’s stock plummeted 11.4%, to $26.29 a share on the Nasdaq market, as a number of firms — Merrill Lynch & Co., ABN Amro, and FleetBoston’s Robertson Stephens — downgraded the stock. Shares reached their 52-week low of $24.06 in April.

On Friday CheckFree shares fell a further 5.9%, to close at $24.42. In a research note, Merrill downgraded CheckFree to “neutral” from “accumulate” and reduced its 2002 earnings estimate to 8 cents, from 17.

Mr. Easthope also cut his first-quarter 2002 revenue estimate by $3 million, to $119 million. “The reason why our forecast came down was the revenue growth,” he said.

CheckFree is not offering anything beyond what it previously promised and analysts thought the company’s numbers were conservative to begin with, he said: “People had higher hopes.”

On a positive note, Mr. Easthope said, for the first time CheckFree’s electronic commerce division did not post a loss.

CheckFree’s e-commerce division reported fourth-quarter revenue of $84.3 million, up 42% from a year earlier, and pro forma operating profit of $374,000, compared with a loss of $4.8 million in fourth-quarter 2000. For the full year, the division posted revenue of $301.5 million, a 41% gain from the $213.4 million in fiscal 2000, and a pro forma operating loss of $13.1 million, compared with $18.2 million the previous year.

“That’s a good sign; that is what investors want to see,” Mr. Easthope said. “The crown jewel of this company is its e-commerce division.”

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