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Oracle president backpedals on 'oligopoly' report

Justice Department plays up market observations Charles Phillips made in previous incarnation as analyst.

In a government deposition, Oracle President Charles Phillips downplayed the relevance of a report he issued in his previous job as Morgan Stanley analyst, in which he declared that SAP, Oracle and PeopleSoft comprised an oligopoly for back-office business applications.

The U.S. Department of Justice played a video of the deposition in court on Friday, entering it as evidence in its antitrust case against Oracle, which wants to acquire an unwilling PeopleSoft.

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The agency highlighted Phillips' 2002 report in its lawsuit against Oracle, leaving Oracle with egg on its face. Oracle hired Phillips away from Morgan Stanley last year and quickly made him the spokesman for its PeopleSoft buyout campaign, which the government is now challenging as anticompetitive.

Under deposition, Phillips said he had used the word "oligopoly"--market domination by a few players--in an informal way. "I used it as a colloquial term, the term oligopoly, and to describe the leading companies with the most recognized brand names and who were public," he said.

Asked whether the report was nonetheless accurate, Phillips said it accurately reflected his opinion at the time but that he isn't a trained economist. "I've never purported to be an economist or present this information as a formal economic analysis."

Phillips also portrayed the report as "just a quarterly write-up," and that hardly anyone paid attention to it, because it was one of many that flooded investors' e-mail boxes after a company reports its earnings. "Very few people actually read these reports," he said.

Oracle is attempting a hostile takeover of PeopleSoft, a chief rival in the market for software packages that businesses use to manage payroll, human resources and related functions. The Justice Department is trying to block that move, contending that it would leave Oracle and German rival SAP as the only significant companies in the market--dominating without enough competition. Oracle is arguing that other viable contenders abound.