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Oracle Smokes Out Cloud M&A Hopes

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Oracle (ORCL - Get Report) has been among the tech sector's most aggressive acquirers in recent years, but is the company buying the right stuff to bolster its competition against IBM (IBM), SAP (SAP), Salesforce.com (CRM - Get Report) and new entrants such as Amazon (AMZN) and Workday (WDAY - Get Report)?

Recent deals targeted at the telecom sector for networking solutions specialist Acme Packet and a Monday acquisition of network signaling specialist Tekelec raise question marks about the M&A strategy of Oracle and its founder Larry Ellison.

For instance, some analysts are speculating Oracle could consider futher networking-type deals, such as an acquisition of BroadSoft (BSFT - Get Report).

As analysts and investors continue to lobby for the company's adoption of cloud computing applications and solutions, Oracle anecdotally appears to be returning to a focus on networking and database businesses.

Such a shift in strategy might be received poorly by investors, who bid up the company's shares over 20% in the 12 months prior to a March 20 third-quarter earnings miss, on declines in software licenses and cloud software subscription revenues.

By early 2012, it was clear that Oracle was an aggressor for cloud-businesses from a seemingly opportunistically priced October 2011 acquisition of cloud service solution RightNow for about $1.5 billion and a $1.9 billion deal for human capital management solution Taleo.

The trend continued with Oracle's late 2012 deal for Eloqua Software, a deal to bolster the company's so-called Oracle Marketing cloud.

Those deals, better performance from previous acquisitions such as database behemoth Sun Microsystems, and revived expectations that Ellison & Co. could fend off threats to its services business from the likes of Salesforce.com and Workday helped to push Oracle shares to levels not seen since the dot-com bust.

Oracle's third-quarter miss, however, showed 2% decline in software licenses and cloud software subscriptions to $2.3 billion, which raised question marks as to whether the services giant is moving fast enough in its cloud computing initiatives outlined in the first half of 2011.

Prior to earnings, BMO Capital Markets analyst Karl Keirstead forecast that Oracle's license growth would increase about 3% year over year, bolstered by recent acquisitions such as Taleo, RightNow and Endeca.

"Acquisitions, in my opinion, have always been a key part of the Oracle story," Keirstead said, in an interview prior to the company's third-quarter earnings. The key, according to Keirstead, is that recent cloud-based acquisitions indicate to Wall Street the company understands fundamental industry shifts. "That was an example where Oracle went off script," he said, of the Acme Packet deal.

"We believe the Tekelec and Acme Packet deals are part of Oracle's strategy to build a stronger presence in core wireless network infrastructure software and then leverage this presence to drag along a broader suite of software, Sun hardware and Exadata systems to the telecom vertical," wrote Keirstead in a March 26 note to clients.

Some sell-side analysts are now bracing for Oracle's continued shift from cloud deals to those focused on bolstering hardware and networking businesses.

"Combined with the Acme transaction, the deal speaks to a larger strategy at Oracle to enter the emerging Applications layer area within service provider networks," George C. Notter, a Jefferies analyst, wrote of Monday's Tekelec deal.

Despite two recent networking deals, Notter expects Oracle to continue to press into the space, putting it in closer competition with the likes of Juniper Networks (JNPR - Get Report), Alcatel Lucent (ALU) and Cisco Systems (CSCO). Notter even saw the acquisitions as reason to speculate Oracle could cut an even larger deal.

"The shares obviously reacted very positively on the back of the Oracle / Tekelec news yesterday. From our perspective, it's reasonable to view Broadsoft as a viable M&A candidate," wrote Notter in a Mar. 26 note to clients.

Broadsoft shares closed up nearly 4.6% to $28.12 in Tuesday trading on speculation it could become an M&A target.
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