Oracle's Bipolar Quarter

By now, it's common knowledge that database specialist Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) has made a $9.4 billion hostile bid for business software supplier PeopleSoft (Nasdaq: PSFT  ) . Although some industry watchers call it misguided, the tenacity with which Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has pursued PeopleSoft is admirable. That's what makes yesterday's earnings conference call so interesting.

Oracle met Wall Street's earnings expectations of $0.12 per share on $2.51 billion in third-quarter revenue, up from $0.11 per share on $2.31 billion in sales during the same period last year. Executives said favorable currency exchange rates accounted for 7% of growth. Free cash flow came in at $2.02 billion, more than $300 million better than year-to-date net income, but slightly lower than the same period a year ago.

New license revenue, generally acknowledged as a barometer for industrywide software spending, was up 12% from last year's third quarter. Quarterly license revenue for its database software was up 16% vs. last year, but its applications business over the same period was flat.

No one should be surprised about that last point, because the proposed acquisition of PeopleSoft would help strengthen Oracle's business software offerings. And yet Ellison didn't really admit he needs help. In a series of strikingly contradictory comments, Ellison pointed out that Oracle didn't, but did, need PeopleSoft.

For example, in his opening statements Ellison touted how its applications business is growing faster than both market leader SAP AG (NYSE: SAP  ) and the combined entity of PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards.

But when asked if results were hurt by pricing pressure in business applications, Ellison parroted the party line, noting that application software is an "extremely competitive business." The chief threat, Ellison said, was the entry of Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) into the market.

What does it all add up to? Positioning. The trial to decide whether Oracle can move forward with its bid begins on June 7 and is expected to last four weeks. Ellison's comments about the applications business, and subsequent rhetoric to remind analysts and investors that he's not done shopping, are aimed at refuting any perceived weakness in Oracle's business should the Justice Department prevail.

Investors would be Foolish to take heed. Oracle has a huge cash stockpile, is growing margins, and generates most of its revenue on a recurring basis. Indeed, Oracle's story doesn't begin and end with PeopleSoft. This is just the beginning.

Is Oracle still a growth stock? Is it better off with or without PeopleSoft? All this and more on the Oracle discussion board. Only on

Motley Fool contributor Tim Beyers doesn't like chocolate, but he'll eat candy bars with peanuts. Yeah, we can't explain it either. Tim doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned here.

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