Oracle's 1Q to illuminate state of software sector

Last Updated: Wed, Sep 19, 2012 18:48 hrs

Oracle Corp.'s latest quarterly results should give investors a better sense of whether corporate spending on computer software is holding up better than the slackening pace of business investments in hardware and other technology equipment.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The results, due out after the stock market closes Thursday, aren't expected to be particularly impressive, based on analyst forecasts and the sluggish sales that Oracle has traditionally reported during the stretch spanning from June through August. The period falls during the peak vacation season and marks Oracle's fiscal first quarter — a time when sales representatives usually don't close as many deals because they tend to drain their customer pipelines at the end of the previous fiscal year to hit the quotas that dictate the size of their annual bonuses.

Nevertheless, the business software maker is believed to be in better shape than the hardware side of the technology industry.

The personal computer industry, in particular, has weakened as the rise of smartphones and tablets has made it tougher to sell desktop and laptop machines. The severity of the problems has become more apparent during the past month after lackluster quarterly reports from major PC makers Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc., as well as a warning of a sales slowdown at Intel Corp., the largest maker of PC microprocessors.

Cisco Systems Inc., the world's largest maker of computer networking equipment, signaled corporate and government demand for other types of technology hardware is sagging in its last quarterly report, too.

An anemic economy, especially in Europe, coupled with uncertainty caused by the upcoming U.S. presidential election and potentially crippling government debts is making some companies reluctant to invest in new technology.

Oracle is the world's largest maker of database software and a leading provider of applications that automate many administrative tasks, so its results and management commentary should provide insights into industry conditions. The company, which is based in Redwood Shores, Calif., closes its fiscal quarters a month before most other software makers.

Even if Oracle's performance in the past quarter proves to be ho-hum, the company's stock could get a lift if executives paint a brighter picture in the current quarter. Nomura Securities analyst Rick Sherlund, for one, suspects Oracle's forecast for the current quarter ending in November might yield some pleasant surprises.

One of the big keys will be Oracle's projection for sales of new software licenses. That's important because those licenses unleash future revenue from upgrades and maintenance.

WHY IT MATTERS: Oracle is considered to be a bellwether for the entire business software industry, so its results could have ripple effects through much of the stock market.

WHAT'S EXPECTED: Analysts polled by FactSet expect earnings of 53 cents per share, excluding charges for past acquisitions and other costs, on revenue of $8.41 billion.

LAST YEAR'S QUARTER: In its fiscal first quarter last year, Oracle posted adjusted earnings of 48 cents per share on revenue of $8.37 billion.

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