Online Resources (Nasdaq: ORCC). Now there's a blast from the past.

It has been about 18 months since I last wrote about this near-last-man-standing provider in the online banking space. Eighteen months during which the industry I'd grown so fond of, and which had rewarded investors so richly, basically evaporated before my eyes. A few weeks before my last write-up, Carlyle Group closed in on Open Solutions. Then Intuit (NYSE: INTU) saw an opportunity and snapped up Digital Insight. And finally, Fiserv (Nasdaq: FISV) surveyed what was left of the industry and decided CheckFree was its best bet.

What has changed
In the end, S1 (Nasdaq: SONE) and Online Resources remained the only two sizable, independent players in online bill payment -- and there just wasn't enough of an industry left to cover anymore. So what's got me looking at it once again? A couple of things. First, Marshall & Ilsley (NYSE: MI) spun out Metavante (NYSE: MV) last year, freeing up a new pure player. Second -- it may sound banal, but I just plain lucked out this month -- Online Resources released earnings on a day when I had some free time to read the report. And so, today, an update on Online Resources.

What hasn't changed
It's as sad to say as it is surprising: Nothing much has changed at Online Resources since last I wrote about it. CEO Matthew Lawlor is still putting a brave face on things, making happy talk about "the benefits of our uniquely integrated payments network" leading to "revenue and earnings [that] increased sharply." But the numbers still aren't backing him up.

Oh, sure, revenue was up -- 27% year over year, in fact. But "sharply" increased earnings? I just don't see it. The company lost $0.12 in Q1 2008. Call that a "sharp decline in losses" and I'd be halfway with you, because last year the company lost three times as much. But I'd have to add the caveat that Online Resources' average share count is up 11% since then -- and the greater numbers of shares outstanding spread out the loss a bit, lowering the loss attributable to each shareholder's now more-diluted stake.

Meanwhile, the earnings that really count -- the ones in cash -- are headed the other way. Online Resources suffered $5.3 million in negative free cash flow last quarter, or five times its cash burn of a year ago. Scary. Perhaps if I leave this one alone another 18 months, things will look better then?

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