Oracle: The Big, Rich Schoolyard Bully

Oh, Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) , dear Oracle. I expect entertainment every time you pick up the phone, and you rarely disappoint. This time is no different, since Larry Ellison never misses a chance to belittle his competition.

Fortunately, Oracle has the business performance to back up Ellison's smack-talk. The second quarter saw earnings come in at $0.25 per share, on sales of $5.6 billion. That's flat earnings year over year, and 6% revenue growth. Yeah, you read that right. Growth.  Growth that investors welcomed when they sent the stock up more than 6% today.

Even though the economy is spiraling out of control, Oracle's customers still feel compelled to renew their contracts for licenses and support to its database and middleware platforms. These applications are the lifeblood of most IT departments, and switching vendors is not done at the drop of a hat. There would be databases to convert and support staff to retrain, and the IT director would have to explain to a skeptical boss why he's going with a less obvious choice. Nobody ever got fired for choosing a Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) solution, right? The same goes for Oracle.

Many of the issues that keep Oracle's fans loyal also make it tough for the company to steal contracts from its rivals. That's probably why Ellison and his gang take such obvious pride in their ability to grab fresh market share. Ellison touted several large wins over customer-relations specialist Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM  ) , and he claimed to have possibly passed IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) as the largest middleware provider in the world. President Safra Katz also threw in a jab at the relatively weak profit margins of Oracle's bitter middleware rival SAP AG (NYSE: SAP  ) .

And that's not all. Oracle loves to show off its resilience in tough times. "During the technology downturn from 2001 to 2003, our support revenues grew by 10%," noted CFO Jeff Epstein. "During the last downturn our operating margins grew by 180 basis points from 2001 to 2003." The renewal rates for support contracts are still "consistent with previous quarters," and "nothing out of the ordinary happened," said Ellison.

Oracle generated $7.6 billion of free cash flow over the past four quarters, 15% above the previous period. This giant remains on the lookout for opportunistic buyouts, and it accelerated its share buyback to $1.8 billion last quarter, from less than $500 million in the first quarter. Watch out, Tibco (Nasdaq: TIBX  ) . Sleep with one eye open, Interwoven (Nasdaq: IWOV  ) . Oracle has swallowed bigger and less obvious fish than you, in much tougher buyer's markets.

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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