The company, the largest seller of software for automating bookkeeping, manufacturing and other business operations, blamed the revenue shortfall on the rising strength of the euro against the dollar and said it expects to exceed its profit targets.
JMP securities analyst Pat Walravens in a research note called the results "mildly disappointing" and reduced the firm's 2004 earnings estimate for SAP.
SAP's software revenue for the quarter, ended Dec. 31, was 930 million euros ($1.2 billion). Software revenue, which excludes revenue from consulting and maintenance services, is generally viewed as a key measure of a software company's core business. Had currency rates remained the same, software revenue would have climbed by 4 percent, SAP said.
In November, after the company reported a sharp rise in third-quarter U.S. sales, SAP's chief executive officer, Henning Kagermann, set a bullish goal ofover the next year. To meet that goal, SAP would need a dramatic reversal of fortune from 2003, a year in which total revenue declined by 5 percent.
On the bright side, SAP's pro forma operating margin in 2003 climbed 4 percent over 2002 to reach 27 percent, the company said.
SAP plans to release more financial details Jan. 22.