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Oracle earnings beat expectations

The database giant reports better-than-expected second-quarter results on the strength of database and business software sales.

Oracle executives predicted strong financial results next quarter, after the company reported better-than-expected second-quarter results Thursday on the strength of database and business software sales.

The database giant earned a second-quarter profit of $623 million, or 11 cents a share, compared with last year's second-quarter profit of $384 million, or 6 cents per share.

Wall Street had predicted earnings of 10 cents a share, according to a poll of analysts by First Call/Thomson Financial.

For the second quarter that ended Nov. 30, revenue grew from $2.3 billion in 1999 to $2.7 billion this year.

In after-hours trading, Oracle's stock inched up $1, from $27.50 to $28.50, according to the Island ECN Web site, which tracks trades on electronic networks.

Oracle's strong financial results were good news for the technology sector, which has been hit hard recently by profit warning after profit warning. In the past two weeks, Apple Computer, Compaq Computer, Intel, Motorola and 3Com have all warned of earnings shortfalls for their current quarters. Microsoft on Thursday afternoon also announced an earnings warning.

During a conference call with financial analysts, Oracle executives said the company expects to post strong earnings in coming quarters. Oracle chief financial officer Jeff Henley said the PC slowdown that has hurt rival Microsoft will not affect Oracle because Oracle is in the Internet infrastructure software business.

"We see no impact or a slowing of our business. We believe the U.S. economy is slowing down, but our industry is not correlated with the PC industry," said Oracle chief financial officer Jeff Henley. "Our business can get better, not worse."

Henley predicted database software sales will grow 15 percent to 20 percent year-over-year next quarter, while applications sales will grow 75 percent.

"We're off to a great start in (the third quarter). We've had a pretty fantastic first half of December," said Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison. "It looks like we'll have a strong" third quarter.

Driving Oracle's revenue growth was a 19 percent year-over-year growth in the company's database software business, which serves as the bellwether for its financial health. Database sales for the second quarter reached $775 million.

The company's business applications software revenue jumped 66 percent to $279 million, while revenue from consulting and support services grew 9 percent to $1.5 billion.

"It was an OK quarter, not a great one," said analyst Robert Schwartz, of Thomas Weisel Partners. "Applications license growth was healthy, but they were lighter on database growth than we expected."

Schwartz said Oracle's second-quarter revenue for databases fell about $12 million, or 2 percent, short of his expectations, while applications growth increased 9 percent more than expected.

But in an interview, Henley disputed Schwartz' calculations for the database software market. Accounting for the weaker euro and other factors, Henley said Oracle actually saw 26 percent growth in database sales.

"Frankly, that's better than average," he said. "We're thrilled with the results."

Analysts had said it was important for Oracle to post strong business software sales after revenue from applications fell short of Wall Street expectations last quarter.

Oracle sells an e-business suite of software that includes accounting, human resources and manufacturing applications, as well as customer relationship management software that automates a company's sales and marketing and other customer needs.

Applications sales last quarter grew only 42 percent, far below the 70 percent growth analysts had expected.