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Opinion: Oracle’s results may not justify investors’ big cloud optimism

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The financial results from Oracle Corp. on Wednesday should have some investors wondering about its current lofty valuation.

Oracle
ORCL,
-0.72%

reported fiscal third-quarter results that were slightly better than Wall Street’s expectations, but its stock fell 5% in after-hours trading. It’s possible that after seeing the software giant on the cover of Barron’s last month touting its growth potential, they were disappointed with its actual total revenue growth of 3% in the quarter.

Its stock has surged nearly 50% in the past year, in part due to optimism that it has transformed into a cloud-computing player. But after Oracle revamped the way it broke down its businesses and combined its legacy software business with its cloud-services business, it’s tricky to tell exactly how much revenue is actually from the cloud.

Oracle said revenue from cloud services and license support was up 5% to $7.3 billion in the quarter, making up 72% of the total. Chief Executive Safra Catz also told analysts on the company’s call that infrastructure cloud services now have an annualized revenue of more than $2 billion.

Based on Chairman Larry Ellison’s long list of new cloud customers on the call, Oracle appears to be making many gains in the ERP (enterprise resources software) cloud market, against its rival SAP AG
SAP,
-0.24%
.

“SAP never rewrote their ERP system for the cloud,” Ellison said, as he explained what he said was an unprecedented migration of ERP customers from SAP to Oracle. “It’s that same 30-year-old code. They never rewrote their ERP system for the cloud and it’s too late for them to start now.”

While the company is clearly making some inroads into an arena it was late in entering, its revenue growth is still in the single digits. Considering one cloud arena is the fast-growing services/infrastructure business — where Amazon.com Inc.’s
AMZN,
-0.17%

AWS business has seen double-digit growth for years — Oracle’s growth is slight. Oracle does have clients in infrastructure, such as Zoom Video Communications Inc.
ZM,
-1.78%
,
with others on the way, but it’s still early days. Catz said Oracle was seeing capacity-constraint issues in its cloud-service business, as customers have expanded workloads dramatically. “We have some very large users coming online shortly that will require significant amounts of capacity,” she said.

“While some compare Oracle to major cloud-infrastructure businesses such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google, the reality is that despite some high-profile wins last year, including Zoom and TikTok, Oracle is still a niche player,” said Scott Kessler, an analyst with Third Bridge, in an email. “Oracle’s status as a cloud company sits somewhere behind Alibaba Cloud and IBM Cloud, with market share of just 2%.”

Much of the current investor enthusiasm around Oracle can probably be more directly attributed to its hefty stock buybacks, which help boost its earnings per share. Catz pointed out that the last quarter also included a tax benefit of $2.3 billion, “related to the transfer of certain assets between subsidiaries.” Oracle’s board approved a $20 billion increase in stock buybacks.

Its generous dividend is also attractive. The board raised its quarterly dividend to 32 cents a share, up 33% from 24 cents previously, a decision which Ellison recused himself from, being one of the company’s biggest individual shareholders, with approximately 38% of the shares outstanding.

“With some technology companies making years of progress over just a few months, many investors now consider growth to be the name of the game,” Kessler added. “Oracle’s growth story has actually been quite cloudy.”

Oracle is fighting similar problems as IBM Corp.
IBM,
+2.97%
,
with a huge entrenched legacy business with customers it does not want to alienate, and a need to find new growth elsewhere. Its embrace of the cloud may bring more growth in the years to come, but for now, Oracle appears to be gaining from its shareholder-friendly tactics, including tax machinations. It has much less to do with real revenue growth.

 

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