REDWOOD CITY -- For the third quarter in a row, software giant Oracle (ORCL) on Wednesday failed to fully meet analysts' expectations in its earnings report. But the company said it is seeing improvement and some experts were pleased.

Oracle said it earned $2.19 billion for its first fiscal quarter, which ended Aug. 31, an 8 percent increase over the same period a year ago. That worked out to 47 cents a share on sales of $8.37 billion, which was up 2 percent from the same period last year.

The report beat the earnings expectation of analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters, who generally had anticipated 44 cents a share. But it fell slightly below their sales forecast of $8.47 billion. Nonetheless, FBR Capital Market's analyst Daniel Ives viewed the numbers as good news for the company.

"We would characterize this quarter as a sigh of relief given the weakness we have seen the last few quarters for Oracle," he said. "While the company still has some wood to chop to get back to better growth prospects we believe investors will walk away from these results feeling better about Oracle's growth potential going forward. This is also a good barometer for the rest of IT spending and speaks to a modestly better spending environment heading into year-end."


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In a conference call with analysts, Oracle President and Chief Financial Officer Safra Catz said, "It was just a very solid quarter," adding that "we saw excellent results in the Americas." But she was cautious about the next quarter.

Oracle announced its earnings after the stock market's official close, when the company's shares rose 61 cents, or nearly 2 percent, to $33.87. But in early after-hours trading, its shares were down about 3 percent.

Based in Redwood City, Oracle is one of the world's biggest sellers of business-oriented database programs and other software. Nonetheless, it has faced growing competition from other firms providing similar services, which some analysts say poses a major threat to Oracle.

Some of its toughest challengers are so-called cloud service providers.

Traditionally, Oracle's software has been installed on individual business computers and those customers paid a fee to use the product and have Oracle maintain it. With the cloud-computing model, on the other hand, companies keep their software on their own servers and let customers access it over the Internet for a fee.

The Oracle headquarters is seen December 20, 2007 in Redwood Shores, California.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
The Oracle headquarters is seen December 20, 2007 in Redwood Shores, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) (Justin Sullivan)

Hoping to keep its cloud rivals from gaining too much ground on its business, Oracle has been buying cloud providers and earlier this year announced cloud-service partnerships with its former rivals, Microsoft and Salesforce.com.

Some analysts believe the moves should help Oracle. But others have expressed concern about the recent departure of several key Oracle executives, including Keith Block, who was named president and vice chairman at Salesforce.com.

Another Wall Street worry is Oracle's server and storage equipment business, which it got into by buying Sun Microsystems in 2010. Oracle has high hopes for some of these hardware products -- especially its Exadata line, which combines hardware with software for high-performance data processing.

However, sales of these hardware products have been modest in recent months. And in the company's latest quarterly report, they were down 7 percent from a year ago. That has prompted some industry pundits to speculate that President Mark Hurd, a former Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) CEO and longtime friend of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, might lose his job. But in a recent note to their clients, Wells Fargo analysts said that by the third fiscal quarter "we expect that the hardware business should begin to post positive year-over-year gains."

Contact Steve Johnson at 408-920-5043. Follow him at Twitter.com/steveatmercnews.