Oracle On Deck; Rising Sun or Setting Sun?

Oracle may not grab the sexy headlines that Apple and Google command, but it might indeed be the tech industry's true, unsung heroes.

And the company's first quarter earnings report, out tonight, should go a long way toward reaffirming that.

The company's acquisition hunt continued, of course, with its big, $7.4 billion purchase of Sun Microsystems , and while that deal continues to undergo European Union scrutiny, it highlights Oracle's interest in growth, organic or otherwise. In fact, that deal garnered enormous press coverage, as Oracle tries to come up with a more effective database software assault on rival IBM . And then there's the hardware side of that deal, with Oracle unveiling a new, Sun-based PC. Oracle seems to have enough arrows in its quiver to mount attacks against IBM and Hewlett-Packard on a variety of fronts and that's why the deal is being followed so closely.

But the nuts and bolts of Oracle's day to day business is far more compelling and certainly worth investor interest.

Analysts this time around expect 30 cents a share on $5.3 billion in revenue. Fundamentally, this company looks good and seems positioned well for a corporate IT spending refresh cycle later this year when Microsoft releases Windows 7. Some analysts once again are anticipating Oracle will surprise to the upside with its release tonight, if only slightly, thanks in part to a favorable currency climate, as well as rosy comments about its outlook for the rest of 2009. And a little perspective: That EPS number is only a penny ahead of the same period last year; and the topline is actually a few percentage points below the first quarter of last year, and 8 percent under Oracle's last sequential quarter, so it's not as if we're talking massive growth, or even an acceleration in business.


But taken against the backdrop of the current, macro-economic condition, this performance - and a possible beat on those tepid expectations - could still signal strengthening business at the world's second largest software maker.

Other key metrics to watch: New software licenses and software license updates, as well as consulting, on-demand and education revenue.

Jefferies analyst Ross MacMillan, who raised his Oracle target from $24 to $26.50, says improving IT spending and the Sun acquisition continues to make Oracle attractive.

Oracle has also become quite the enterprise spending bellwether. Its shares over the past quarter rose 12 percent, and are hovering around a 52-week high. If you want to have some fun (if you're an Oracle shareholder and not a Microsoft shareholder), compare Oracle's 5-year chart to that of Microsoft's. Over the period, Oracle's shares are up almost 100 percent. Microsoft's? Down 9 percent. Ouch. Talk about momentum, opportunity and execution!

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Oracle also continues to cut costs, beginning with CEO Larry Ellison himself, who announced last month that he'd shave his annual salary from $1 million to $1. Of course, with last year's option sell-off of well over $1 billion, he can certainly afford the cut.

I have written extensively about top names in dynamic sectors poised to take advantage of the economic turnaround once it begins. There's Intel , and Apple, and Cisco , and Hewlett-Packard. I think today's report should prove that Oracle absolutely belongs on that list.

Questions? Comments?