Will Oracle Outperform in 2011?

Each year, we take a look back in order to look ahead. We do this by industry, by trend, and ultimately by stock. Here's a closer look at Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) , Fool style.

Foolish facts

Metric

Oracle

Motley Fool CAPS rating (out of 5) ****
Total ratings 3,252
Percent bulls 93.7%
Percent bears 6.3%
Bullish pitches 401 out of 440
Highest-rated peers Radiant Systems, MICROS Systems, Fortinet

Data current as of Dec. 29.

I've owned shares of Oracle for going on seven years now. Judging by the collective wisdom of the Fools rating the stock in our CAPS database, I shouldn't plan on selling my shares anytime soon. Only seven of the last 99 to rate the stock believe it will underperform the market.

What drives the unbelievers? Inertia. Bears believe Oracle is too big and slow, and that CEO Larry Ellison will soon lose his ability to buy growth.

"[Oracle's] recent acquisition of Sun might lead to interesting synergies…, but I doubt it possesses the technical expertise and the engineering culture necessary to overcome the challenges brought by disruptive changes in disk media," Foolish investor niaow wrote earlier this month.

Looking back to look forward
Fair enough. Knowing how to access a rotating optical disk drive isn't the same as knowing how to access a solid-state drive. And yet I suspect the database king will adjust fine. We've chronicled a year's worth of savvy business moves in our 2010 Oracle coverage at Fool.com:

  • Mostly savvy, anyway. In May, evidence emerged that Oracle might have tried to swallow too much when it ate Sun Microsystems. First-quarter server market reporting by Gartner showed a 38% drop in Sun's server revenues.
  • Better news came next month when the company reported fiscal fourth-quarter results. Per-share earnings came in at $0.60, well above the $0.54 the Street expected. Revenue improved 39% when factoring in the impact of the Sun deal and 13% organically.
  • September brought the biggest news of Oracle's year -- and perhaps its biggest coup in a decade. On Sept. 6, Ellison hired former Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) CEO Mark Hurd, a friend, to replace Charles Phillips as co-president. Days before, Hurd had left HP under a cloud of controversy that, as of this writing, remains the subject of an SEC investigation.
  • HP wasn't pleased. Almost immediately, the company filed a lawsuit against Hurd in order to "protect its confidentiality agreements" with the former CEO. Sour grapes? Maybe, but that's Silicon Valley. Drama is part of the allure. In this case, the tussle lasted only days, ending when Hurd gave back a big portion of his egregious severance package.
  • Later that month, Oracle gave investors a closer look at what it expected Hurd's team to sell: a self-contained hardware and software bundle meant to serve as a comprehensive infrastructure for cloud computing. Ellison referred to the product, called Exalogic, as a "cloud in a box."
  • Around the same time, Ellison told the audience at Oracle's annual analyst meeting that his team was interested in buying a chip company. Speculators bid up the stocks of three companies thought to be on Oracle's target list: Micron Technology (NYSE: MU  ) , Cirrus Logic (Nasdaq: CRUS  ) , and Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD  ) .
  • October brought more buyout speculation. This time, The Wall Street Journal reported that Oracle was eyeing a bid for data storage specialist EMC (NYSE: EMC  ) . Were a deal to get done, it would likely require Oracle to issue new stock. The database king has avoided diluting existing shareholders in prior acquisitions.
  • Finally, last month a judge ordered SAP (NYSE: SAP  ) to pay Oracle $1.3 billion in restitution for illegal corporate spying. The database king was seeking millions more in interest as of this writing.

Not that Oracle needs the money. Here's a closer look at the company's financial performance for the year:

Fiscal 2010-2011 Performance

Q3 2010

Q4 2010

Q1 2011

Q2 2011

Revenue growth 17.4% 38.5% 48.4% 46.5%
Normalized net income growth 3.8% 17.6% 24.2% 34.2%
Gross margin 77.8% 76.4% 72.5% 74.9%
Return on capital 12.5% 19.7% 11.2% 14.8%

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

And here's what analysts expect from Oracle over the next two years, according to data compiled by Capital IQ:

Capital IQ Estimates

2011

2012

Revenue estimate $34,999 million $37,973 million
Normalized profit per share estimate $2.08 $2.31

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Data current as of Dec. 28.

Foolish outlook: bullish
Oracle's allure is that it's a predictable producer and user of cash. Returns on capital have remained safely in the double digits for a decade now. More than $8 billion in free cash has flowed into the company's coffers over the past 12 months, more than enough to pay down debt, fund deals, and pay a small dividend. All signs point to Oracle improving with age.

Now it's your turn to weigh in. What do you think of Oracle's prospects at current prices? Please leave a comment in the box below to explain your thinking. You can also join me in rating Oracle in Motley Fool CAPS.

What will be next year's best stock? The Motley Fool has created a brand new free report called "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2011." In it, we reveal the little company set to profit from the broadband Internet expansion. Get instant access by clicking here – it's free.

Interested in more info on the stocks mentioned in this story? Add Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, Micron Technology, Cirrus Logic, Advanced Micro Devices, EMC or SAP to your watchlist.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of Oracle at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Cirrus Logic and Oracle and is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. When it comes to stocks, the Fool's disclosure policy is a lookie-loo.


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Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 01, 2011, at 6:12 PM, AlyByrd wrote:

    Great article! Oracle is my longest held stock, and has consistently been a steady gainer for more than a decade. There have been slow gains at times, especially with the voluminous acquisitions over the years, but still consistent growth. Oracle is as it name has always suggested, a repository of information and accessibility that multitudes of the best companies in the US and, increasingly abroad use to manage and store critical information.

  • Report this Comment On March 13, 2011, at 11:18 PM, shooter104 wrote:

    I have looked unsuccessfuly for the motley fool's number one stock pick for 2011.. I have clicked on the free report link and it does not come up.. I am getting a little frustrated trying to navigate your website so I am going to log out now.. please send me the report or direct me to it.. thank you..

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