It may finally be two in a row for Oracle ( ORCL).

Even as its PeopleSoft ( PSFT) crusade has hurt its stock price, Oracle finally may post its second consecutive quarter of solid results Thursday after a rollercoaster ride of bad quarter after good. That's the consensus on Wall Street, which looks to Oracle's results as an industry barometer since they come out a month before its peers' earnings.

"Everyone's going to be hanging on Oracle to see whether software businesses in general are starting to pick back up," said Rich Parower, co-manager of the Seligman Global Technology Fund. An in-line report should be viewed "pretty positively," he said, though it still could generate a bit of a software selloff. (His firm doesn't hold Oracle shares.)

Oracle shares bucked the tech slide Wednesday in advance of its earnings report, with shares closing up 10 cents, or 0.8%, at $12.41. Oracle shares, however, have gained only 11.3% in the past year, significantly underperforming the nearly 53% surge in the Nasdaq Composite in part because of the company's controversial hostile bid for PeopleSoft.

In part because of the PeopleSoft drama, the stock is trading at about 25 times the consensus estimate for fiscal 2004 earnings and 23 times '05 earnings, the low-end of its peer group. The benchmark P/E ratio for software companies is typically about 30 times forward earnings.

The world's second largest independent software maker has stumbled in each of the past two fiscal third quarters, which end in February. But this year should be different as technology spending shows more signs of life.

Oracle's guidance calls for third-quarter earnings of 11 cents to 12 cents a share on revenue ranging from $2.47 billion to $2.54 billion, representing a 7% to 10% top-line increase from a year ago. Oracle's broad outlook for license revenue called for an increase of between 5% and 15%, or between $780 million and $854 million.

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