Bank software firm Hogan Systems Inc. has hired Morgan Stanley & Co. to explore "strategic alternatives" for the firm, company officials said last week.

Hogan executives said in a terse statement released Wednesday that it has tapped the New York-based investment bank "as its financial adviser for the purpose of evaluating strategic alternatives to maximize shareholder value."

The hiring of Morgan Stanley could be interpreted as a prelude to a possible sale of Dallas-based Hogan, said Richard X. Bove, an analyst with Raymond James & Associates in St. Petersburg, Fla.

"Presumably one of these alternatives would be the sale of the company to an entity with greater capital resources than are currently available to Hogan," Mr. Bove said.

Hogan officials flatly declined to comment on Mr. Bove's speculation of an imminent sale or even what possible outcomes were being considered.

Mr. Bove cited several reasons why he thinks the time is ripe to sell Hogan, which was founded in 1977 and markets integrated core accounting systems to the nation's largest banks. Most of its software runs mainframe computers from International Business Machines Corp.

Hogan has "turned itself around" after some weak sales quarters in 1994, Mr. Bove said. "Its new product array is in the marketplace, and Hogan has made some important sales to First Interstate and Huntington Bancshares, suggesting that its earnings are in a significant uptrend."

Mr. Bove also cited what he called a "renaissance of the mainframe business," enhancing Hogan's attractiveness to potential suitors.

He said another Raymond James analyst, Bruce Hadburg, has been arguing against predictions of the demise of the mainframe in the wake of the growing use of linked personal computers.

"You just have to look at the recent earnings from IBM and Digital Equipment Corp. to see banks are still buying big iron," Mr. Bove said.

The recent pickup in mergers and acquisition activity in the software business can tip Hogan's board of directors towards selling, Mr. Bove speculated. "Both Legent Corp. and Lotus Development Corp. have recently received bids suggesting that software companies could be worth up to 25 times earnings," he said.

Using that yardstick, Hogan might be worth as much as $200 million, or $13 dollars per share, Mr. Bove concluded. That price, he said, is based on estimated earnings of 50 cents per share for fiscal 1995.

Hogan earned $6.2 million, or 43 cents per share, in fiscal 1994, which ended this March 31.

The company's Nasdaq-listed common stock closed at $Price TK per share Friday, up PRICE TK for the week.

Mr. Bove said a number firms could bid for Hogan if it were put up for sale. He cited both IBM and Computer Associates Inc. as firms with the financial muscle to acquire Hogan.

"Hogan can give any acquiring firm a magnificent entry in the bank technology business," he said. "They have a truly blue-chip client list."

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