SAN FRANCISCO - Oracle's latest quarterly earnings rose 18 per cent as companies splurged on more software and other technology toward the end of the year.
The results announced Tuesday are an improvement from Oracle's previous quarter, when the business software maker's revenue dipped slightly from a year earlier.
The latest quarter spanned September through November. That makes Oracle the first technology bellwether to provide insights into corporate spending since the Nov. 6 re-election of President Barack Obama and negotiations to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff began to heat up in Washington.
Oracle Corp. said it earned $2.6 billion, or 53 cents per share, in its fiscal second quarter. That compares with net income of $2.2 billion, or 43 cents per share, a year ago.
If not for charges for past acquisitions and certain other costs, Oracle said it would have earned 64 cents per share. On that basis, Oracle topped the average earnings estimate of 61 cents per share among analysts surveyed by FactSet.
Revenue increased 3 per cent from last year to $9.1 billion — about $900 million more than analysts had projected.
In a particularly heartening sign, Oracle said sales of new software licenses and subscriptions to its online services climbed 17 per cent from last year to outstrip the most optimistic predictions issued by management three months ago.
The flow of new licenses and subscriptions, which represent about a quarter of Oracle's revenue, is closely tracked by investors because they spawn more revenue in the future from upgrades.
In the current quarter, which ends in February, Oracle expects software licenses and subscriptions to increase in the range of 3 per cent to 13 per cent from the previous year. The company, based in Redwood Shores, Calif., predicted its adjusted earnings in the current quarter will range from 64 cents to 68 cents per share on revenue ranging from $9.1 billion to $9.5 billion. That would be a 1 per cent to 5 per cent increase from the prior year.
Oracle's stock added 54 cents to $33.42 in extended trading after the numbers came out. If that gain holds in Wednesday's regular trading session, it will mark a new 52-week high for Oracle.
The solid performance by one of the worlds' biggest technology suppliers suggest corporate decision makers aren't yet fretting too much about the economy falling off a fiscal cliff and plunging into a recession. The fiscal cliff refers to the combination of wide-ranging increases in taxes and wrenching cuts in government spending that will be automatically triggered Jan. 1 unless the Obama administration and Congress can reach an agreement on how to soften the impact.
"As can see in our numbers, folks wanted to spend their budgets, continue to want to spend their budgets," Safra Catz, Oracle's chief financial officer, said in a conference call with analysts. "We are having an absolutely wonderful December so far."
The spectre of higher taxes prompted Oracle to make the unusual decision to bunch the next three quarters of stock dividends into a single payment that will be made before the end of the year. The move, announced earlier this month, is designed to ensure that Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who owns a 23.5 per cent stake in the company, and his fellow shareholders don't get hit with a higher tax bill on dividend income next year. The accelerated payment schedule will distribute about $206 million to Ellison, already one of the world's richest people, and will lower his tax bill by tens of millions, if the rates on dividend income rise next year.
Oracle would have fared even better if it could find a way to sell more computer servers and other hardware, something it has been unsuccessfully trying to do since completing its $7.3 billion acquisition of Sun Microsystems Inc. in 2010. The company's hardware revenue plunged 16 per cent from last year.
In Tuesday's conference call, Ellison said some of the erosion in the hardware division has been by design as Oracle weeds out some of the less profitable equipment. He assured analysts that hardware revenue will start increasing in the final quarter of Oracle's fiscal year — the period spanning from March through May. Sun's Java programming language already has been paying off for the software side of Oracle's business, according to Ellison.
"Sun has already proven to be the most strategic and profitable acquisition Oracle has ever made," he said.