Executives of Online Resources Corp. offered a bullish outlook, despite a weak fourth quarter, but they would not discuss a shareholder that has called for the online banking provider to revamp its strategy.
The Chantilly, Va., company has responded to the economic slowdown with job and spending curbs, the executives said, and is expanding the roster of billers in its network, so it can deliver more payments at a lower cost.
During a fourth-quarter earnings conference call Thursday, Matthew P. Lawlor, Online Resources' chairman and chief executive, turned aside an analyst's question about the Santa Monica, Calif., hedge fund Tennenbaum Capital Partners LLC, which has proposed seating three of its candidates on Online Resources' board when shareholders meet in May.
"We would love to answer that question, and we will answer the question, but we can't answer the question until we file our proxy material," Mr. Lawlor said. "We'll be very articulate and comment on that when we are allowed to."
Tennenbaum disclosed last month that it had acquired 21.9% of Online Resources' stock. The shareholder urged the company to pursue "strategic alternatives" to boost its stock price, which has fallen from above $10 a year ago to around $3 now.
Online Resources has been hurt by the economic slump, especially in its bill payment business.
"Strapped consumers make fewer payments and for smaller dollar amounts, both of which impact our revenues," Ray Crosier, the company's president and chief operating officer, said on the call.
During the fourth quarter Online Resources renewed 11 of its top 100 clients and added five major ones, including two "very large card issuers who purchased Web-based collections," Mr. Crosier said. The company said it now provides six of the country's top 11 issuers a way for delinquent borrowers to work out their debts online, rather than by phone.
Online Resources' fourth-quarter net income fell 75% from a year earlier, to $3.5 million. Revenue fell 2%, to $37.2 million.
Core net income, the company's preferred measure of tracking its operating performance, was 7 cents a share, or 2 cents below analysts' average estimate.
Mr. Lawlor said the historical comparisons were distorted because of the loss of three big clients in late 2007 and early 2008.
Among the losses in the last 18 months were Jack Henry & Associates Inc., a core processing vendor that chose another bill-pay provider, and Certegy Inc., which merged with Fidelity National Information Services Inc., a core processing vendor that built its own bill-pay system.
Online Resources reaffirmed its December forecasts for this year, projecting a first-quarter loss of 9 to 12 cents a share and a full-year loss of 11 to 23 cents. It also said it expects core net income of 3 to 5 cents this quarter and 31 to 39 cents this year.
Mr. Lawlor said results would improve in future years. He forecast revenue growth of 9% in 2009, and between 10% and 20% in each of the next three years.
Thomas McCrohan, an analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC of Philadelphia, called the results "disappointing" and urged Online Resources to pursue a sale.
"In a takeout transaction, we believe the shares could fetch between $8-$10 per share. This compares to only $3 per share as a going concern," Mr. McCrohan, who rates the shares a "buy" on hopes of a sale, wrote Friday in a note to clients. "Persistently low interest rates, declining organic growth in transactions, and stiff competition from its larger core processing peers (all of which offer a much more robust product suite) make it increasingly difficult … to maximize shareholder value."