SAN FRANCISCO -- Oracle (ORCL) - Get Free Report Chairman and CEO Larry Ellison made a bold but sotto voce projection in an unguarded moment at the NationsBanc Montgomery Securities Technology Conference.
Chatting with a Monty salesman, Ellison said he expects Oracle to grow applications at 40% over the next several quarters. "But I'll deny that I said this," Ellison told the salesman.
The ebullient chairman then clammed up completely upon noticing a couple of reporters attentively listening in.
Mister Softee Haunts the Sun-lit Halls
wasn't presenting at the conference, its presence hung over the place like a restless ghost. Just ask
CFO Michael Lehman.
Lehman took the podium after a glowing introduction from Montgomery that said Sun was "putting Microsoft in its place." Then the software running his slide show crashed -- to the hooting of one audience member who asked, "Is that PowerPoint?" -- the ubiquitous Microsoft slideshow program.
A chagrined Lehman answered back, "I know what operating system it's on and it's not Solaris," his own company's platform. He then rebooted his laptop to bring up the cloud-whipped blue sky that is Microsoft Windows 95's opening screen.
Slides in place, Lehman touted Sun's continued emphasis on network computing during his presentation, asking his audience of analysts, money managers and journalists not to "just buy our shares. Give us a call. What can we .com for you?"
Lehman said Sun is "increasingly being viewed as the company setting the agenda for network computing," a market that will dominate the way people use the Internet and conduct e-commerce.
"Three years ago, we made three bets and we're doubling down on a couple of them," Lehman said. "The first one was the Internet and network computing, then bandwidth. We said then that bandwidth would not get in the way of our business model and it hasn't. In fact, it is continuing to proliferate."
The third bet Sun is making is on
and its derivative,
, which was formally launched last week. Java is intended to be a universal computing language that runs anywhere, and Jini helps computers and other devices connect to each other on networks.
To hear Sun tell it, the bets are paying off handsomely. The company's revenues grew 16% in the first half of fiscal 1999 from the same period a year before. That growth rate will rise to more than 20% in the second half, Lehman said. In addition, Sun is consolidating some of its office space, which should help trim the company's sales, general and administrative costs by 3 percentage points in the next few years.
But Jeffrey Van Harte, a money manager who runs the $289.7 million
Transamerica Premier Equity fund, was less than impressed. He doesn't hold Sun in his portfolio now and felt the company's presentation didn't add any reason to do so. "If there's a whole shift toward network computing, he didn't really talk about it," he said. "Why do you talk about your
growth numbers if you want to highlight this shift to networking?"
Medora Lee and Joe Bousquin
Amazon Is Growing -- Will Its Losses?
Meanwhile, at the
session, so many people tried to cram in that the doors couldn't be closed. CFO Joy Covey told all sardines in attendance that the giant bookseller expects slightly stronger sales this quarter from the fourth quarter's impressive figure of $253 million.
That was the news, even though the fourth-quarter numbers were substantially beefed up by holiday shopping online. But Amazon has seen similar first-quarter jumps in revenue for the past two years.
Meanwhile, Amazon is "spending a boatload on sales and marketing" in a plan that the company outlined
last week. Covey said today that the spending to build the brand and the business will "drive losses in dollar terms higher" in the coming quarters.
Covey also outlined how the company's capital management model -- it actually gets paid by credit card for the books it sends out to its customers -- gives it 33 days of lag time before it has to pay its own suppliers.
Philip Treick, who holds Amazon.com stock in both the $176.7 million
Transamerica's Premier Aggressive Growth portfolio and the highflying $206 million
Transamerica Premier Small Company fund (he bought the stock in July 1997), liked that model.
"Thirty-three days? That's like getting paid 33 days in advance. That's what we call sweet," Treick said. "Most companies consume capital as they grow. This company, paradoxically, creates capital as it grows."
He compared Amazon.com to
, the made-to-order computer manufacturer, to which he was an early convert in 1994 and 1995. "What these guys had in common is negative working capital," he said, referring to the lag time. "And companies that have that business model can grow."
Treick's quotes can't convey how gung-ho he really is on this stock, though. But maybe his actions -- or more specifically inaction -- can. Although he's been in the stock for over a year and a half, Treick said he hasn't taken any profits on the company, even when it reached its dizzying, $400-split-adjusted valuation last month.
Suzanne Galante and Joe Bousquin