VeriFone Can't Pay Forever

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- With shares soaring 90% over the past nine months, you will have to look far and wide to find a stock hotter than VeriFone (PAY). This company has paid off handsomely for investors but as with all good things, it may be time to cash out.

While VeriFone certainly looks to be in much better shape under new management, the company's stock has also benefited from non-organic events.

The recent data breach endured by Target (TGT) has shed some light on the importance of point-of-sale security. This unfortunate event compromised information from an estimated 70 million people.

Investors believe VeriFone might be the solution. That company has experience with various PIN and chip cards that are a global standard for operating POS terminals and ATM machines. EMV is also a security standard for authenticating credit and debit card transactions.

Not surprisingly, given Target's data breach shares of VeriFone are up close to 25%. The company is seen as being in the right place at the right time. And to think, nine months ago VeriFone was left for dead on rumors that Apple (AAPL) was planning to enter the mobile payment system. But these rumors haven't gone away.

Although new CEO Paul Galant seems eager to transform VeriFone's hardware-centric business to more of a software/services oriented model, the industry is changing faster than the company can execute the change.

New threats are emerging every day. We know about the popularity of eBay's (EBAY) PayPal, the dominant person-to-person payment service. Last year, eBay decided it needed to protect that golden goose and picked off payment services system Braintree for $800 million. Braintree processes well over $12 billion in transactions per year

Not to be outdone, there is also Square, which is growing in popularity. Square is reported to have processed more than $6 billion worth of transaction last year. Last but not least, Intuit (INTU) has a system called GoPayment, which is a relatively unknown service, but it is gaining traction.

And let's assume these threats weren't immediate. Even if they posed no real danger, VeriFone still needs rivals like NCR (NCR) and Ingenico (INGIY) to falter, other companies that spent the past year eating up market share. They've proven more stable and have not shot themselves in the foot.

Although VeriFone's recent partnership with American Express (AXP) may yield incremental benefits and growth opportunities, l wouldn't get carried away and set expectations too high. Verifone has done better in the past couple of quarters, yes. But the bar was set very low.

On Tuesday, when VeriFone reports fiscal first-quarter earnings, management will have an opportunity to prove its critics wrong. The Street will be looking for earnings of 27 cents per share on revenue of $429 million, which would represent flat revenue. (This is while earnings-per-share is expected to decline 47%.)

Let's not get too down. The stock is up so strongly over the past quarter, making profits off the depths from which this company comes. The good news is that CEO Paul Galant has been saying all of the right things. And after having served as head of the Enterprise Payments and Cards units at Citigroup (C), he knows his way around a register. Investors can only hope that this experience pays off.

At the time of publication, the author was long AAPL but held none of the other stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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