NEW YORK — A drop in accounts and continuing fears about the credit-card industry had Total System Services Inc. trading lower Wednesday despite a slightly better-than-expected third quarter and a reiterated guidance.
The private-label card processor and issuer, which is about 81% owned by Synovus Financial Corp., recorded a drop in profit for the quarter but came in above Wall Street's consensus figures for sales and improved from the second quarter.
Still, analysts focused on a 3.8% drop in Total System's account balance to $342.1 million, as domestic accounts retreated 7.1% to $253.2 million and offset a 7.3% gain in international accounts. North America revenue as a whole fell 8.2%. Total Systems has struggled to build its accounts after losing some big customers, and after breaking into growth in the second quarter, the third quarter fall was discouraging.
In a broadly lower market, shares slumped 6.6% to $15.45 in recent trading, earlier falling to its lowest point since early September. Synovus Financial was down 12% to $2.12.
Analysts at Credit Suisse highlighted the growth in merchant services and internationally but remained worried about the larger picture.
"A solid pipeline and strong merchant acquiring growth are positives," the analysts said in a note, "but with a weak consumer and cautious issuers, we remain on the sidelines."
Other analysts pointed out concerns that were brought out by the drop in accounts and management's apparent failure to finalize the signing of new accounts.
"It is taking the company longer than normal to close deals due to the difficult environment," Lazard Capital analysts said, noting they expect to see this change in coming quarters. "The company's letters of intent (LOIs) continue to increase, but actual contract signings are far and few between."
Morgan Keegan analysts said it appears that banks and healthcare providers are "hesitant to sign on the dotted line in the current environment," adding they believe that "this is likely to continue as the overhang of legislative issues ... raises questions about the long-term profitability and mechanics of card businesses and the sense in signing an outsourcing contract with a market up in the air."
Still, Total Systems didn't lose any major customers, and those letters of intent are likely to become real business at some point.
For the third quarter, the company's profit fell 14% to $55 million, or 28 cents a share, from $64.1 million, or 32 cents a share, a year earlier. Excluding a one-cent charge from discontinued operations in the latest quarter, earnings matched the 29-cent profit analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had been expecting.
Revenue slipped 1.6% to $432.3 million, easily topping the $409.9 million the Street was expecting. Revenue in merchant services jumped 11%, helping offset a 6.3% decline in the electronic-payment-processing segment, which makes up the majority of revenue.
Total System also reiterated its guidance for 2009, calling for earnings to fall 11% to 14% and revenue to fall 3% to 5%. The latest analyst figure for earnings, $1.11 a share, would be a 16% drop in earnings and revenue would tumble 15%.