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point man on the hostile takeover of PeopleSoft said Thursday that the Department of Justice may not finish its review until January.

"There are a lot of people from the DOJ involved, and they are trying to learn a complex situation quickly," Oracle Executive Vice President Charles Phillips said during a presentation at a Goldman Sachs investment conference in New York. "We have to make sure they have all the information they need. If they need until January,

then take until January."

Oracle's $19.50-per-share offer for the rival software company will expire at the end of December, but the company has extended that deadline five times since launching the acquisition attempt in early June.

The DOJ has been examining the proposed deal for months, looking for signs that the merger of Oracle, PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards, now part of PeopleSoft, would stifle competition in the market for enterprise applications. The combined companies would be second only to German software giant

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in that market.

Valued at $7.3 billion, the deal has become a long shot as PeopleSoft's unexpectedly strong financial performance keeps the stock over the price of the offer. Shortly before Thursday's close, shares were off 23 cents, or 1%, to $21.48

Moreover, the management team of the Pleasanton, Calif., software maker handily

outmaneuvered Oracle by offering customers a money-back guarantee if Oracle takes over the company and reduces product support.

The guarantee, which could cost a new owner of the company as much as $800 million, is now the subject of a lawsuit by Oracle. If the database giant loses, it has said, it may abandon the offer.