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Oracle's Fiscal 4Q Sales Disappoint Wall St. Again

By MICHAEL LIEDTKE

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) â¿¿ Oracle 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 growing market. The cloud computing shift is being led by smaller companies that were set up to focus on leasing software over the Internet. This group includes Salesforce.com Inc., Workday Inc. and NetSuite Inc., a company backed by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.

Like other software makers born decades ago, Oracle and longtime rival SAP are trying to mine new markets while still clinging to the old way of doing things because the familiar sales methods still bring in most of the company's revenue.

"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 $2.99, or 9 percent, to $30.22 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 covering Oracle's fiscal fourth quarter also contained troubling signs as several key gauges fell below the analyst projections that steer Wall Street's expectations.

Nonetheless, Oracle insists it remains healthy. It boasted that it added more than 500 cloud computing customers in the past quarter, putting the company on a pace to generate more than $1 billion annually in cloud computing.

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