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Shares in Net transaction firm climb

Shares of CyberCash rise 15 percent after the processor of e-commerce transactions posts a large gain in traffic numbers.

Shares of CyberCash rose 15 percent today after the processor of e-commerce transactions posted a substantial gain in transaction volume.

The Reston, Va.-based company reported earlier this week that it handled eight million Internet transactions last month, triple the number from the same month last year.

CyberCash said H&R Block's Web site accounted for one million of the transactions, as the number of people preparing their taxes surged.

CyberCash also reported that the number of Internet merchants using its service rose to 20,000 from 14,900 at the end of March 1999.

The company's shares rose $1.55 to $11.88 today on volume of 1.5 million shares, more than three times the daily average.

"They had a tremendously strong February compared to the trouble they had last year," said Ulric Weil, an analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co.

"The first quarter seems to be going very well over there," agreed analyst Jeff Baker of SunTrust Equitable Securities. "Their product revenue may be a little soft but their revenue from their services should do well."

Baker expects the company to generate $5.9 million in revenue and to lose 35 cents per share for the quarter.

"Our revenue may be a little aggressive," he said. "We are clearly the highest on the Street, but the company said they were comfortable with our numbers in a conference call."

Analysts surveyed by First Call expect the company to lose 40 cents per share for the quarter, compared with 40 cents a year ago.

"CyberCash has a past to live down," said Weil. "They went public too early and promised too much, and that left investors with a bad taste in their mouth."

The company went public in 1996, and its stock soon soared to a high of $66. The shares have traded as low as $6.68 during the past 52 weeks.

"They've been a kind of fallen angel," said Weil. "They were just too optimistic in predicting e-commerce traffic volume in 1996, 1997 and 1998."

"They have good management where they were thin, and now the company just has to execute its business plan," said Baker. "Clearly they have to drive the company to profitability. They have to up-sell. That's what the Street is looking for, and if they can do that they'll be successful."

CyberCash currently serves smaller "mom-and-pop type vendors," according to Baker, and charges 4.3 cents per transaction. He expects CyberCash to offer more services and target larger vendors in the second half of the year.

"The territory is wide open and not fully occupied so they can do it," said Weil. "But there are some big companies in the sector with (recognizable) brand names. Yet CyberCash has a good brand name too."

Overall, Weil thinks the sector is beginning to mature. "Signio, which was bought by VeriSign, reported a similar surge in transactions, so it's an industrywide increase across the board, " he said.

"This lends credibility to the CyberCash's claims and leads me to believe that the sector is not just a flash in the pan and that it is coming into its own."