Sell Oracle? Bah! Humbug!

Time for another tech check. Database leader Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) reports earnings this Thursday. Wall Street isn't expecting good news.

"We believe Oracle may announce a broad set of expense reduction initiatives to help maintain its margin structure," Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Brad Reback wrote in a research note. Reback is one of many analysts who expect the company to miss earlier per-share earnings estimates by about $0.02, The Associated Press reports.

Certainly there's reason to be conservative. Firms are cutting back on certain tech spending, as evidenced by layoffs at Silicon Valley neighbors Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: JAVA  ) and Symantec (Nasdaq: SYMC  ) , among others, and cost-cutting at data storage specialist Seagate (NYSE: STX  ) . And don't forget SAP (NYSE: SAP  ) , which said in October that the global financial crisis had taken a big bite out of its third-quarter revenue.

Even so, looking at Oracle's returns on invested capital, I like CEO Larry Ellison's chances at squeezing efficiency from existing operations. Might that be enough to preserve his company's recent streak of better-than-20% earnings growth? That's debatable, but a steady stream of high-margin maintenance revenue should keep cash flowing for years to come.

The strength of Oracle's cash flow has earned Ellison and team quite an entourage in our 120,000-strong Motley Fool CAPS community:

Metric

Oracle

CAPS stars (5 max)

****

Total ratings

2,536

Bullish ratings

2,358

Percent bulls

93%

Bearish ratings

178

Percent bears

7%

Bullish pitches

302

Bearish pitches

38

Data current as of Dec. 15, 2008.

"Oracle is still the preeminent database out there for large industry and government, it also has a strong consulting team," wrote CAPS investor PEG1765 in November. "While Open Source is coming along, enterprise licenses are good, and so long as Oracle continues to work at those, they should maintain their lead, as enterprises like to have reliable, accountable support when software issues rise."

Or, as ZDNet blogger Larry Dignan wrote yesterday, "One thing is certain: analysts agree that Oracle is much better positioned for a recession than it was last time around."

Exactly. Who cares whether Oracle misses earnings estimates by $0.02 a share? Look instead at database license revenue and cash flow. If those remain healthy, so is this business.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Rule Breakers team and owned shares of Oracle at the time of publication. Check out his portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. The Fool's disclosure policy likes zinnias.


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