IBM ( IBM) may have just lost Sun Microsystems ( JAVA) to Oracle ( ORCL), but the tech giant does not expect the merged rivals to pose any new threats. If IBM is feeling sore about the collapse of its own attempt to buy Sun, then it is doing a good job of not showing it. The Armonk, N.Y.-based firm, which reported its first-quarter results after the market close Monday, was grilled about the impact of Oracle's $7.4 billion Sun purchase during a conference call with analysts. "They now have the same address and the same mailbox, but we are talking about the same team we have been competing against for some time and winning," scoffed IBM CFO Mark Loughridge, in response to an analyst's question. Loughridge said Oracle and Sun have been partnering for two decades, adding that his firm has picked up 14 points of market share against its rivals since 2000. "As I look at this and ask myself what has really changed -- I think nothing," said the CFO. "We have been competing with Sun
and we know Oracle inside out." Not everyone, however, is as dismissive, and at least one analyst warns that Oracle's decision to grab struggling Sun could have massive ramifications for the tech sector. "Oracle is the new hardware/software/services powerhouse," wrote Stuart Williams, an analyst at Technology Business Research (TBR), in a note released Monday. "This deal directly threatens the dominance of IBM and Microsoft> ( MSFT) on the software side and IBM and HP on the hardware side."
Software giant SAP ( SAP) may now move closer to IBM as a response to the Sun-Oracle deal, according to Williams, who says that the two businesses are "highly complementary." By nabbing Sun, Oracle has also gained a foothold in the growing market for blade servers. Cisco ( CSCO), for example, recently jumped into this space with the launch of its Unified Computing System, much to the annoyance of its long-time partner and blade supremo Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ). "Oracle will challenge IBM, HP and Dell> ( DELL) on the server front, with the ability to create aggressively-priced hardware/software/service bundles for items such as blade servers," warned Williams. Sun had been shopping itself around Silicon Valley for a long time before Oracle finally bought it, and Sun was the object of IBM's desires up until very recently. Despite rumors that a deal was imminent, price was reportedly a major sticking point, and IBM eventually walked away. With more than $12 billion in cash, however, IBM could still go on a shopping spree and has already demonstrated its willingness to seek out bargains. "As far as acquisitions are concerned, we have a very strong base," said Loughridge, during Monday's conference call, adding that IBM has spent $20 billion on more than 100 acquisitions since 2000. "Those have yielded substantial benefit to IBM, largely as a result of our strong and very disciplined process," he said. Opinions were divided on whether a Sun deal would have made good sense for IBM, thanks to Sun's history of poor execution and the challenges of swallowing a massive acquisition. With or without Sun, though, IBM is still seen as a potential leader of the tech turnaround.
Still, the tech bellwether missed analysts' first-quarter revenue estimates, and the firm was stung by currency fluctuations. IBM nonetheless reiterated its bullish 2009 earnings guidance and reported quarterly earnings of $1.70, 4 cents higher than Wall Street's estimate. For the full year, the company still expects earnings of at least $9.20 a share, despite the tough economy. At least one analyst feels that IBM still offers plenty of upside for investors. "IBM's ability to meet or beat earnings expectations in a weak demand environment should allow the stock to continue to outperform in a weak market," wrote Goldman Sachs analyst David Bailey, in a note released Tuesday. "IBM's mix continues to shift to higher-margin services and software." The analyst, who maintained his Buy rating for IBM, added that the firm should see $2 billion in cost savings from restructuring actions taken since 2008 plus another billion dollars from longer-term initiatives which should phase in over the next few quarters. IBM shares nonetheless dipped $1, or 1%, to $99.43 in Tuesday trading, despite a broader advance in tech stocks that saw the Nasdaq rise 0.56%.