BERLIN -- Europe's largest software maker,
, has a reputation for being about as exciting as tuna casserole.
And while flash may mean little in the unglamorous world of business software, for a company plagued with staff attrition and lukewarm acceptance of its new portal-based back-office systems software,
, the fuddy-duddy mantle certainly hasn't helped matters.
SAP, however, has been talking big recently, touting a fat contract with Swiss food concern
(NSRGY:OTC BB) for mySAP.com. The deal allows SAP to claim it is closing the gap on the likes of e-business leader
. The company's second-quarter results, due out Thursday morning, are also likely to show an improvement on a rather dismal first quarter, with pretax profit expected to be more than 200 million euros ($185 million) and revenue growth expanding by 15% to roughly 1.4 billion euros.
But even should SAP beat consensus estimates and post sparkling second-quarter figures, it likely won't erase lingering doubts over the company's long-term performance. Strong in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) software market, by many accounts SAP has a long way to go to make itself into a Web-oriented company. Moreover, the company has set an ambitious goal of doubling revenue over three years by 2001, which could leave plenty of downside for the stock should the firm prosper but not come close to its self-imposed targets.
Ahead of the second-quarter figures, SAP shares traded in New York were off 1 1/4, or 2.4%, at 50 7/8 in Wednesday afternoon trading.
As with any business, the question is whether a company has the products people are interested in buying. If people these days want the brand-spanking-new e-commerce-enabling B2B applications and are less interested in SAP's old ERP products, there just might be a problem getting them to embrace mySAP.com. Some observers cite SAP's recent
as proving SAP doesn't have the goods. Billed as a strategic alliance, some see it as nothing more than a glorified reselling agreement for SAP.
In the U.S., SAP has had some nasty staff-attrition problems that it hopes to slow with its new incentive program, but ultimately its new products will have to catch on in a big way to secure a chunk of the key American market. Some observers, however, think SAP's problems stem less from its software than simply getting its message across. "In marketing terms at least, they've been far less successful than Oracle," says Peter Wyatt, an analyst for
in London. "It's a massive undertaking and this is the year of transition" to its Web-based products, he says. "I certainly wouldn't write them off." Nomura does not have an investment banking relationship with SAP and rates the stock a buy.
In its own back yard in Europe, SAP hasn't immediately capitalized on the implosion of its main rival, the Netherlands-based
, which is now on the sale block. Sooner or later, SAP likely stands to gain from Baan's diminished role, as customers flee a sinking ship.
And Baan's fate highlights a key point: For all of the challenges facing SAP, it is unlikely to ever come close to the unhappy fate of its Dutch competitor. "It is a very dangerous sport to bet against SAP," says one analyst from a major European bank who declined to be named. "It is still going though quite a significant transformation, but the company has enormous resources and is not going to go the way of Baan."
Ultimately, that SAP is a big, liquid technology stock amid a perceived dearth of European B2B plays should continue to help buoy the share price regardless of the difficulties facing the German giant. No matter how boring tuna casserole can be, one would be hard pressed to find a Euro-tech fund without SAP in its portfolio.