The market clearly liked Oracle’s (NYSE: ORCL) 4th quarter results released last Wednesday. On Thursday, the stock price opened above April’s all-time high and continued to close 8% higher on the day.
Both GAAP and non-GAAP EPS were higher than expected, as was revenue. The company also indicated that it expects revenue growth to re-accelerate in the next year and earnings to grow by double digits. So, is the new all-time high justified, and how likely is further upside?
Analysts Remain on the Fence
Oracle is a tricky call at the moment. Judging by management commentary, the company is on the verge of an era of renewed growth. However, we have heard about the new cloud applications for some time without seeing a meaningful uptick in revenue growth.
It’s worth noting that quarterly revenue was guided lower in March, and sentiment was very weak ahead of last week’s earnings release. The recent price action was to a certain extent a knee jerk reaction to the stock exceeding very low expectations. For the last 18 months, Oracle’s share price has been closely tracking the broader tech sector, which is not that impressive when you consider the amount the company has spent buying its own stock.
While more than 10 analysts upgraded their price targets after the results, none of them changed their recommendation, which for the majority is a hold. With so many analysts on the fence, it’s worth recapping the bullish and bearish case for the stock.
The Bullish Case
If Oracle’s new cloud applications are as good as claimed, the company has the right corporate relationships to ramp the business up quickly. Oracle is also well placed to help clients’ transition to a cloud environment over time with a mix of on-site and cloud-based solutions.
Though growth is slow, the company is very profitable. It has very healthy margins, plenty of cash and pays a solid dividend for a technology company.
For the above reasons, Oracle would be one of the more defensive stocks in the case of a downturn in the broader market or the tech sector. Many of the tech stocks that have seen rapid price appreciation are not profitable and trading on very high sales multiples.
If the cloud application business takes off, the current price would in hindsight look cheap. With more than 20 analysts maintaining a hold recommendation, there’s potential for that many upgrades too.
The Bearish Case
Oracle has spent $36 billion repurchasing its own stock in the last year, which has undoubtedly supported the price. It’s also contributed to earnings growth while revenues have remained flat. Many analysts believe the buyback program cannot continue at that pace.
The lack of transparency over the breakdown of revenues by product makes it very difficult to tell how well the cloud business is really doing. Some analysts believe this is done to obscure the real picture until it does improve.
Without a meaningful improvement in revenue growth in the next 6 months, investors are likely to lose patience.
A Binary Bet
Oracle is increasingly becoming a binary bet. If the cloud business proves to be a winner, there is a lot of room for upside and it could come very quickly. If it doesn’t, investors will lose patience. Oracle is therefore not a buy and hold investment, and positions would need to be actively managed.
Traders may want to use a trend following strategy or buy on retracements in the broader tech sector which the stock tracks closely. Either way, risk needs to be managed carefully.