Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Thanks, Oracle, for Harshing the Enterprise Tech Buzz

Even as the euro zone stares into the monetary abyss, even as the unemployment rate hovers around 9 percent, even as consumer spending is showing few signs of holding up despite the holiday season, there was one simple reason for being hopeful about the prospects of technology stocks.

Despite everything, corporate spending on IT was going to hold steady, went the conventional wisdom. Big tech companies selling to big companies — except the financial ones — were supposed to have the situation well in hand. All those big companies looking to get things done in a faster, cheaper and more efficient manner would be writing big checks to the big lumbering tech companies, which would translate into operational savings: Faster servers, faster PCs, cloud services, better software.

At least that was the conventional wisdom until today. Now Oracle has gone and harshed whatever buzz there was left. Once investors got their heads around the wider implications of the software giant’s disappointing quarter, they concluded that the entire enterprise tech sector required a sharp spanking. Here’s a rundown of the damage:

  • Oracle shares fell by $3.40 or nearly 12 percent, and briefly traded within 20 cents of their 52-week low.
  • IBM, recently the engine of steady, dependable tech growth, fell $5.77, or more than 3 percent.
  • Cisco Systems fell 49 cents, or more than 2 percent, and teamed up with Big Blue as the day’s worst Dow performers.
  • Salesforce.com fell 5 percent.
  • VMWare fell nearly 10 percent.
  • SAP fell $3.49, or more than 6 percent.
  • Hewlett-Packard held up (relatively) better than the rest, falling only 47 cents, or less than 2 percent.

Okay, you get the picture. Investors wanted out of any stock that touched enterprise tech today. Oracle is considered a bellwether. The result was predictable. But does the crux of the argument that fueled today’s fear have any merit? Maybe not.

There are reasons to hope it’s not quite so bad. For example, IT consulting house Accenture, which saw its own stock fall more than 4 percent today, recently reported a pretty good quarter, with record revenues and earnings. Its strength came from $7.8 billion in new bookings, which isn’t exactly a negative indicator.

Second, even if corporate spending does slow down, tech M&A deals could help larger companies grow despite themselves. Oracle, Cisco and IBM have a combined $87 billion in cash and short-term investments among them. And as we’ve seen, there’s still plenty of appetite among large tech companies for gobbling up smaller ones, especially in the red-hot software-as-service space.

Recent examples include SAP’s $3.4 billion acquisition of SuccessFactors, Oracle’s $1.5 billion deal for RightNow, and Salesforce’s grab of Rypple.

And the potential targets are numerous: There’s Taleo, NetSuite, Workday; even newly public Jive Software.

Finally, the currency weakness that has Oracle and so many other companies running uphill when dealing with non-U.S. customers isn’t going to last forever. Yes, it’s true that IT companies like it better when the dollar is weak against the euro. Considered from that angle, Oracle and other global tech companies suffer less from a demand problem than a temporary — though it is going on way too long — currency problem.

But even if the euro crisis does last well into next year, there are still the BRIC countries, which Intel, another significant tech bellwether, can’t stop praising. And — dare I say it? — the U.S. economy is showing signs of coming back to life. In several states, private payrolls are growing just enough to offset the declines in employment at state and local governments, and as new tax revenue flows, government payroll declines will slow, as well. As 2012 wears on, the U.S. might find itself rolling into an honest-to-goodness recovery, which would fuel improvements to IT budgets. Though the hard-drive shortage caused by the flooding in Thailand won’t make this any easier.

So don’t worry. Or don’t worry too much.


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