A long-running rumor that Oracle ( ORCL) might buy BEA Systems ( BEAS) caused a mild stir on Wall Street Wednesday, but neither stock moved much. In fact, Oracle was up a bit -- a sign that the Street doesn't really expect to see the database giant shell out the $3.7 billion or more it would take to devour that morsel. BEA finished the day up 4 cents, or less than 1%, to $10.59, while Oracle gained 61 cents, or 4.8%, to $13.26 a share. Rick Sherlund, the high-profile Goldman Sachs software analyst, revived the rumor in a note initiating coverage of BEA Wednesday. He gave the company a rather cautious "in-line" rating and presented a mixed analysis of the company's outlook, highlighting increasing competition from IBM ( IBM). "IBM is simply a lot bigger and getting better," he wrote, while noting that competitive threats from Microsoft and Oracle are real, but less serious. Goldman has an investment banking relationship with BEA, but not with Oracle. BEA has
lost market share to IBM recently, although there is some dispute about the accuracy of IBM's share, because Big Blue does not break out product revenues clearly. Sherlund also was rather cautious about Oracle's prospects. He said that Oracle is being left behind in the Web services market and that its own application server is in a weak position because the company does not have the software infrastructure stack that would make it more competitive with BEA WebLogic or IBM's WebSphere. That led him to conclude that: "Strategically, we believe BEAS is a good fit with ORCL to address this shortcoming and ORCL management has publicly stated on several occasions that an acquisition of BEAS would make strategic sense, were the price at an attractive level." But with a current market cap of $4.4 billion, $578 million in cash and equivalents, $554 million in long-term debt (trading at about a 5% discount), and $681 million in short-term investments, BEA would cost at least $3.7 billion, a high price for a company that has never made an acquisition approaching that figure.