As electronic commerce takes hold in wholesale banking, Harbinger Corp. is one of the bank technology providers benefiting most.
The Atlanta-based company provides banks and other corporations with network services and software for automated clearing house and electronic data interchange transactions.
With annual revenue growth of about 50% in each of the last five years, meeting or exceeding Wall Street expectations, Harbinger has pleasantly surprised many analysts.
Harbinger "has beaten my earnings estimate every quarter since I started following them," said Steven Shook, analyst at Interstate-Johnson Lane, Charlotte, N.C. "It has had pretty consistent growth."
Harbinger officials have told analysts to expect growth to continue apace for the next eight quarters, and the company has suggested to some that they raise their earnings expectations.
Mr. Shook said the company's stock is selling at 42 times earnings, based on annual earnings per share of 56 cents. Earnings are expected to be 85 cents per share next year, which would lower the multiple to 27.
The stock, currently trading at about $24 compared to about $12 a year ago, is "pretty reasonable," Mr. Shook said. In late Friday trading, Harbinger's stock had gained about $2.125 for the week.
"I think these guys are going to be steady and consistent performers for a while, and that gives a lot of room on the stock side," Mr. Shook said.
One of the things fueling growth is banks' increased attraction to electronic initiatives.
Harbinger has thousands of banks and corporations running on its software, and it has added several influential customers in recent months.
For example, Fleet Financial Group Inc. and Firstar Corp. are quietly preparing to offer new electronic commerce services to their small and midsize business customers using Harbinger software.
In addition, sources said Harbinger has signed a multimillion-dollar deal with one of the nation's top treasury management banks.
Other Harbinger customers include BankAmerica Corp., Barnett Banks Inc., and Deposit Guaranty Corp.
"Those banks coming to us . . . is a sign of what they think we can do," said George Hart, senior vice president and co-founder of Harbinger. "We're on a real wave as it relates to these types of products."
Observers said wholesale electronic commerce is growing at a rapid clip. The growth is fueled by banks' desire to cut operating costs and by pressure from large corporate customers who want to do the same.
Another big driver is a federal mandate, which ultimately will require 90% of all U.S. businesses to transmit tax payments electronically.
"We have a pent-up demand" for electronic payment services, said Dale Kalika, vice president at Milwaukee-based Firstar. "Small businesses are interested in doing business electronically . . . and as soon as possible," she said.
Analysts said Harbinger is well-armed to compete with the likes of Sterling Commerce Inc. and General Electric Information Services Inc.
Sterling-a recent spinoff from its parent, Sterling Software Inc. of Dallas-is Harbinger's closest competitor, analysts said.
As both companies look for acquisitions to bolster their market position, Harbinger may have a leg up, the analysts said, because Sterling is temporarily restricted from engaging in pooled stock transactions as a result of its spinoff.
Though Sterling recently added more than $400 million through a secondary stock offering that could be spent on acquisitions, analysts Harbinger's edge in flexibility could prove an advantage in the coming year.
Not all is positive at Harbinger. Its effort to incorporate an automated business tax payment feature into its PC-based software has been delayed.
Harbinger executives said the project specifically involves integrating automated clearing house tax payment services from Dabco Computer Services Inc. into Harbinger's TrustedLink Banker.
Dabco is a large software provider for federal, state, and municipal tax payment processing. The company was recently bought by CashTax Inc., a unit of First Data Corp.
Originally targeted for completion at the end of March, the project now should be finished at the end of the third quarter.