Oracle fiscal fourth-quarter sales disappoint again

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SAN FRANCISCO Oracle (ORCL) is still having trouble closing enough business software deals to keep Wall Street happy.

The quarterly results announced Thursday could escalate investors' fears about Oracle's ability to adapt to the changing demands of its customers. Businesses and government agencies are increasingly buying software through monthly or annual subscriptions that enable employees to access applications on any machine with an Internet connection. This "cloud computing" approach is a shift from Oracle's traditional approach of licensing software that is installed on individual computers kept on the premises of its customers.

Oracle has been rolling out more cloud-computing options through acquisitions and in-house development, but its recent performance is raising questions about its ability to compete in this increasingly important segment of technology.

"It's a very difficult transition," Forrester Research analyst Andrew Bartels said. "It's something they are clearly nervous about."

Investors are jittery, too. Oracle's stock plunged $2.81, or 8.5 percent, to $30.40 after the numbers came out.

A similar sell-off occurred three months ago, when Oracle's previous quarterly report proved to be a letdown.

The latest report also contained troubling signs, as several key gauges fell below the analyst projections that steer Wall Street's expectations.

In an apparent attempt to offset the slowdown in its software sales, Oracle is doubling its quarterly dividend. A payment of 12 cents per share will be made on Aug. 2 to shareholders of record as of July 12. Oracle will also try to boost its stock by spending an additional $12 billion buying back its own shares.

The Redwood Shores, Calif., company earned $3.8 billion, or 80 cents per share, in its fiscal fourth quarter. That represents a 10 percent increase from income of $3.5 billion, or 69 cents per share, at the same time last year.

If not for certain expenses unrelated to its ongoing business, Oracle said it would have earned 87 cents per share. That matched the average estimate among analysts surveyed by FactSet.

But revenue remained unchanged from the same time last year to $10.9 billion -- about $170 million below analyst forecasts.

In a particularly telling sign, Oracle's sales of new software licenses and cloud-computing subscriptions increased just 1 percent from last year. The midrange of an estimate provided by Oracle's management in March called for a 6 percent increase. New software licenses and subscriptions are considered to be a key measure of a software maker's health because they set up a steady flow of future revenue.

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