Oracle Earnings Preview: Cloud Growth versus Legacy Deterioration – Which Will Win ?

Oracle, the large-cap, relational database software giant, reports their fiscal Q3 ’24 financial results after the bell on Monday night, March 11th, 2024.

Analyst consensus – per LSEG – is expecting:

  • Revenue: $13.3 bl for expected y.y revenue growth of 7%
  • Operating inc: $5.7 billion for expected y.y growth of 10%
  • EPS:  $1.38 for expected y.y EPS growth of 13%

Last quarter, Oracle produced revenue growth of 5%, operating income growth of 9% and EPS growth of 11%.

OCI (Oracle Cloud Infrastructure) rose 71% yoy in fiscal Q2 ’24, while the legacy business (i.e. on premise, etc.) fell 19% yoy, and therein lies the story.

Oracle is still digesting Cerner, which closed in the November ’22 quarter, so the numbers (i.e. free-cash-flow, capex, fully diluted shares outstanding) should start to return to normal. (This blog includes acquisitions in capex, hence the $30 bl cost of Cerner, will distort free-cash-flow through the November ’23 quarter, which has now passed.)

When you think of the cloud space, you see AWS (Amazon Web Services), Azure (Microsoft), Google Cloud and OCI, which you’d maybe have to think is trailing the three of those cloud business, and the first two by a whole lot.

That doesn’t mean you want to count Larry Ellison and Safra Catz out, even though Oracle is trailing the rest of the competition, all of which are quite formidable, and then you have to wonder how AI changes the competitive landscape. AI is part of cloud, and I don’t know that Oracle has articulated any specific AI strategy, but you’d have to assume that this topic will start showing up on the conference calls.

Oracle’s big positive is that it’s operating margins compare favorably to Microsoft and Adobe in the 40% – high 40% range.

Oracle peaked in June and September of 2023, at $127 per share. Today Oracle is sitting right on top of 50 and 200-day moving averages, with little of the general large-cap tech enthusiasm today, even though the stock is up about 7% YTD.

For those readers who are more traders than investors, Oracle’s fiscal 4th quarter every year, which ends every May, is usually their big quarter. Last year, Fiscal Q4 ended May ’23, when revenue grew 17% y.y (some of that aided by Cerner integration) and the operating margin jumped to 45%.

Valuation: Expected EPS growth the next 3 years is 11% (average) while the stock is trading at an average multiple of 18x, so relative to it’s expected growth rate, the stock is a little cheap. Revenue is expected to average 8% over the next 3 years.

The big influence on valuation will be as the Cerner acquisition gets integrated into Oracle, the gross margin, which is now 72% will drift back towards it’s normal 78% – 80% and the operating margin, now in the low 40% range, should drift back into the high 40% range.

Summary / conclusion: In technology, it’s often hard to invest in the #3 or #4 competitor in a particular space, although in software, it’s probably easier than hardware. In hardware, you always want to buy the low-cost manufacturer.

Today Oracle is like Cisco (in more ways than one), but if we are using Michael Porter’s Competitive Strategy analysis, Oracle – to me – seems caught in the middle so to speak, and is trying to build out the cloud, while not letting the legacy business dry up completely.

There are a number of positives around Oracle for a short-term trade, i.e. technicals are still intact, and the stock has seen none of the enthusiasm, of the AI crowd, gross and operating margins should expand over the next 4 – 8 quarters and return to “pre-Cerner” levels as the company gets integrated.

One of the most compelling aspects to the stock though is that over long time periods, Oracle tends to remain inline with the SP 500 in terms of longer-term performance. Earnings preview were written for Oracle in September ’23 here, and that double-top in the stock occurred in the June ’23 and September ’23 time frame.

With Microsoft as clients largest position, it doesn’t make too much sense to own a lot of Oracle. That being said if long-term performance is run for Oracle versus the SP 500, going all the way back to Jan 1, 2000 through December 31 ’23, and then from 1/1/2010 through 12/31/23, Oracle’s annualized return is just basis points below the SP 500 total return.

From a performance perspective, the stock delivers. Maybe the AI disruption will change that dynamic.



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