Predicting Oracle's Next Move

Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) Chairman Jeff Henley spoke at the JP Morgan investors' conference yesterday. In his characteristically direct way, he announced that the $10 billion PeopleSoft acquisition has been fully integrated.

So the natural question is, what's next for the software giant? Could there be a dividend in the company's future? Well, Oracle thinks dividends are for wussies. Instead, it's using its resources to gear up for another big acquisition.

Henley named no targets -- but that didn't stop investors from speculating. Perhaps the most popular name being tossed around is Siebel (Nasdaq: SEBL  ) , a leader in customer-relationship-management (CRM) applications that even Carl Icahn has been rumored to be interested in buying.

Siebel serves a market that exceeds more than $7 billion per year, and the company has $2.2 billion in the bank and top-notch customers who pay hefty ongoing maintenance fees. But the company is also in turmoil. It recently sacked its CEO because of a poor first quarter. And switching a system as large as Siebel's would be disruptive for an organization and would carry relatively large costs.

To make matters worse, Siebel faces serious competitive threats, especially from Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM  ) and other emergent CRM companies. No doubt, Salesforce.com has built an easy-to-use and powerful product that's getting an amazing about of buzz. And Salesforce.com does not have to deal with the restructuring distractions that face Siebel.

Oracle may be better off buying a company that provides business-intelligence solutions, which mine and analyze myriad data sources to find weaknesses and make forecasts and budgets. After all, companies that have Oracle's enterprise-resource-planning (ERP) software would likely want to be better able to analyze their data, and a business-intelligence solution suited to Oracle systems would find a ready customer base.

One of the leaders in the business-intelligence space is Cognos (Nasdaq: COGN  ) , which had a strong first quarter while many other enterprise-software players were weak. But despite the traction, Cognos' stock price has been weighted down by generally negative sentiment toward the sector.

True, it's never a good idea to buy a company based on buyout speculation, and that makes Siebel an unattractive candidate. It's still all about buying good companies. And as I indicated in my last piece on the company, Cognos is definitely a standout. Let's see whether Oracle agrees.

Fool contributor Tom Taulli does not own shares mentioned in this article.


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