Publicly held payment systems firms reported higher second-quarter earnings last week that for the most part exceeded Wall Street's expectations.

In some cases, the upbeat profit reports even helped companies to blunt a big investor selloff in technology shares.

And payment systems firms continue to be good buys for investors, some analysts say, despite a run-up in stock prices over the past six months.

"I think the earnings of these companies showed that credit card usage continued to be very strong in the second quarter," said Richard K. Weingarten, an analyst with Montgomery Securities in San Francisco. He noted that second-quarter revenues at one bank card processing firm, Columbus, Ga.-based Total System Services Inc. rose 30% from the previous year's period.

While many investors bailed out of blue-chip technology stocks like Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. last week, Mr. Weingarten was sanguine about the prospects for less glamorous - but more predictable - payment systems firms. "You could see investors shifting from higher-growth, more volatile technology stocks to these companies because they will be attracted to the higher recurring revenue nature of the payments business," he said.

One leader in the automated payments business, First Financial Management Corp., last week reported second-quarter net income of $44.5 million, or 69 cents a share, compared with $34.2 million, or 55 cents a share, for the same period in 1994.

Analysts had predicted the Atlanta-based company would earn 67 cents in the three months ended June 30, according to First Call Corp.

Officials at First Financial, which last month agreed to merge with rival First Data Corp. in a $6.7 billion deal, said second-quarter revenues grew a whopping 51% from the year-earlier period, to $782 million.

Automated teller machine manufacturer Diebold Inc. reported that second- quarter net income reached $18.9 million, or 62 cents a share, up from $16.2 million, or 53 cents a share, in the same period last year. Analysts had expected Canton, Ohio-based Diebold to earn 60 cents a share, according to First Call.

"The second quarter was characterized by consistent, steady growth, which is a goal we are achieving in the decade of the 1990s," said Robert W. Mahoney, Diebold's chairman and chief executive officer. "In addition, the backlog of product orders grew in the quarter, providing a good start for the second half of the year."

One payment systems company that slightly disappointed Wall Street was SPS Transaction Services Inc. The Riverwoods, Ill.-based firm reported second-quarter net income of $9.8 million, or 36 cents per share, compared with $8.9 million, or 33 cents per share, in the year-earlier period. Despite that increase, analysts had expected SPS to earn 40 cents in the latest quarter, according to First Call.

Even with the earnings let down, "SPS's core operating statistics were quite strong," Mr. Weingarten said, adding that profits were temporarily hurt by provisions related to the company's acquisition of credit card portfolios from Tandy Corp. last year.

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