Oracle Q4 profit jumps 24 percent

The company sold $1.2 billion in Sun hardware during the period

Oracle reported fourth-quarter earnings of US$0.46 per share on Thursday, a 24 percent jump over the same period last year. Revenue rose 39 percent to $9.5 billion.

Excluding special charges, Oracle posted earnings of $0.60 per share and $9.6 billion in revenue. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had on average predicted earnings per share of $0.54 and $9.5 billion in revenue, excluding special items.

For the year, Oracle had earnings of $1.21 per share, a jump of 11 percent. Revenue rose 15 percent to $26.8 billion.

New software license revenues, which are considered a prime indicator of growth, rose 14 percent to $3.1 billion in the quarter.

Oracle also sold $1.2 billion in Sun hardware during the period. Excluding special charges, Sun contributed more than $400 million in operating income during the quarter, Oracle President Safra Catz said in a statement. Sun lost money the same period one year ago when it was still independent from Oracle, she added.

The market had been hotly anticipating news on Oracle's Sun business, as the fourth quarter was the first full one under Oracle's ownership.

Armed with Sun's hardware, Oracle has embarked on a strategy that involves selling integrated systems that span hardware, storage, middleware and business applications.

But cost cutting and workforce reductions have helped Oracle make Sun turn a profit. In a regulatory filing this month, Oracle indicated it would be making significantly more Sun-related job cuts than originally announced.

Oracle now has "increased confidence" that Sun will contribute $1.5 billion or more in operating income, excluding special charges, in Oracle's fiscal 2011, according to Catz.

A number of factors are helping the Sun business, Catz said during a conference call Thursday.

Users have also been reassured by Oracle's ownership of the company, she said.

"Customers are buying a lot of hardware now. They are very, very loyal to technology they love," she said. "Now that they know it has a future ... they are much more comfortable making those investments again."

Also, a new support policy for Sun products, which includes attractive pricing models, has been "very well-received" by customers, Catz said. "A lot of customers that had not been on support have come back to Sun," she said.

However, Oracle also requires that when customerspurchase hardware support, they must do so for all systems. Observers haveviewed the move as an attempt by Oracle to stop Sun customers from using patches from supported machines on unsupported ones.

Oracle is planning to double the size of Sun's sales force, said CEO Larry Ellison. Oracle has been snaring salespeople from competing companies and is impressed by the quality of those candidates, said co-President Charles Phillips.

Meanwhile, Oracle also has high hopes for its Exadata line of transaction-processing and data-warehousing machines. Some of IBM's largest customers began purchasing Exadata machines during the quarter instead of large IBM servers, according to Ellison. The Exadata sales pipeline for fiscal 2011 is approaching $1 billion, he said.

That success will grow "as long as we can demonstrate and benchmark we are a lot faster than IBM," Ellison said. "People are skeptical about any new product," he added. "They buy a couple of new machines and test them, and if they're successful, they make standardization decisions."

Shares of Oracle rose $0.78 to $23 in after-hours trading.

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