The first week of 1996 was a downer for most bank systems stocks as jittery investors turned bearish on the technology sector overall.
After a big year for publicly traded technology firms, Wall Street appears a little more worried now about the sector's earnings prospects in 1996.
This fear was especially pronounced among investors of payment systems and services firms amid reports of weak consumer spending in the peak holiday shopping season.
Telecheck Services Inc., a unit of payment processor First Data Corp., said last week that U.S. retail sales for December fell 4.1% from a year earlier.
Accordingly, Smith Barney analyst Greg Gieber said last week that he has initiated coverage of Equifax Inc. with a "neutral" recommendation, stating the stock is already "fairly valued." He put a 12-month price target of $22 to $23 a share on the Atlanta-based company.
The analyst said the rating reflects his concern over slower consumer spending affecting demand for credit-rating reports from service bureaus like Equifax.
Rodman & Renshaw analyst Gareth Plank struck a similarly conservative stance on the financial-systems sector. He started coverage of bank-systems outsourcing firm Fiserv Inc. with a "neutral" rating.
Mr. Plank said Fiserv's stock is fairly valued at its current price of $29-$30 a share, adding that the Milwaukee-based company is attractive as a long-term investment.
"Management appears capable of maintaining its impressive growth rates and should be able to continue to do so through internal growth and additional acquisitions," Mr. Plank said.
He said he estimates Fiserv will earn $1.12 a share for fiscal 1995 and $1.33 a share for fiscal 1996.
One outsourcing firm that some analysts remained upbeat on is Electronic Data Systems Corp. The Plano, Tex., firm announced Dec. 29 that it had won approval from the Internal Revenue Service for its tax-free spinoff from its parent, General Motors Corp.
J.P. Morgan Securities analyst William Rabin said EDS could be spun off from GM as early as the end of February.
Mr. Rabin said the new EDS stock should be part of the Standard & Poor's 500 index, which would place it in many mutual funds and provide a $1 to $2 boost in its stock price.
Another technology optimist is John Hancock mutual fund manager Michael DiCarlo, who was quoted in Barron's last week saying he's still likes firms involved in the nascent electronic commerce business, including Intuit Inc., Checkfree Corp., and US Order Inc.
Barron's also reported last week that an investment group led by Southport, Conn. adviser Dawson-Samberg Capital Management Inc. had acquired in a 6.1% stake in financial systems firm Broadway & Seymour Inc.
In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the group said it bought 529,900 Broadway & Seymour shares between Nov. 2 and December 6 at prices ranging from $16.25 to $18.625 a share.
The SEC filing said the shares were acquired for investment purposes.