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Image: Heartland Payment Systems.

Earnings season is always awkward for companies that are getting acquired. Heartland Payment Systems (NYSE:HPY) accepted a bid from rival Global Payments (NYSE:GPN) in December in a $4.3 billion deal. Coming into Tuesday's fourth-quarter financial report, Heartland investors expected strong results from the company, even though they are destined to get partially cashed out if the transaction closes later this year as scheduled.

Heartland's results were even stronger than expected, and the company is pulling its weight in advance of a merger that could create a behemoth in the industry. Let's look more closely at how Heartland Payment Systems did, and what's ahead for the company.

Impressive results for Heartland
Heartland Payment Systems' fourth-quarter results were consistent with its track record of impressive numbers in the past. Net revenue climbed 14%, to $214.1 million, just missing another record high, and easily topping the consensus forecast for $207.5 million. Adjusted net income came in at $31.2 million, reversing a year-ago loss, and coming in $0.09 higher than most investors had expected.

Heartland continued to knock its business metrics out of the park. New margin installed hit another all-time high, rising 31%, to $28.1 million. Small- and mid-sized enterprise transaction processing volume rose 14%, to $24 billion. Same-store sales growth of 2.2%, and net volume attrition of 10.8%, were slightly worse than the company posted last quarter, but they were still reasonably strong.

Moreover, segment performance was strong. Payment processing net revenue climbed 4.8%, and card-transaction processing volume rose more than 14%. In the payroll segment, sales soared 46% on a 20% gain in organic growth, and the school solutions and campus solutions divisions both posted modest gains in revenue, as well.

CEO Robert Carr called the results "an emphatic conclusion to what has been the best year in the history of Heartland." The leader pointed to the success of building out its sales organization, as well as its Senior Product Advisor strategy in building up payroll growth.

How Heartland is getting ready for the Global Payments merger
The biggest news of the quarter came from the Global Payments merger, and Heartland Payment Systems is looking forward to that combination becoming a reality. Carr said that the move "will be transformative for the worldwide payments industry and represents a combination that I believe will become the most valuable payments company in the world." By extending its reach internationally, Heartland will be able to work more closely with international clients, and add more services to their relationships.

For its part, Global Payments is also enthusiastic about the deal. In its press release announcing the merger, Global Payments CEO Jeffrey Sloan said that the move will "significantly enhance[e] our direct presence in our largest market and transform Global Payments into the leading provider of integrated payments technology in the world."

Under the terms of the deal, Global Payments will pay Heartland shareholders cash and stock that was worth $100 per Heartland share at the time of the proposal. The deal includes $53.28 of cash per share, as well as just more than two-thirds of a Global Payments share for every Heartland share a given shareholder owns. That will give current Heartland investors skin in the game going forward, making it important for the company to keep performing well, even with a transaction imminent.

Heartland Payment Systems stock didn't react particularly strongly to the news, given that its share price is generally moving in lockstep with Global Payments shares right now. Still, the positive news indicates that the transaction is a good deal for everyone concerned, and Heartland can look forward to ongoing success as part of Global Payments, even after the deal is completed.

Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Heartland Payment Systems. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.