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Oracle (ORCL) insists its cloud growth remains strong. But from this point on, you'll probably have to take the company's word for it.

Moreover, between Oracle's latest guidance, as well as what third parties report seeing on the ground, it looks like the company's overall cloud growth is still slowing meaningfully.

Results and Guidance

After the bell on Tuesday, Oracle reported May quarter (fiscal fourth quarter) revenue of $11.25 billion (up 3% annually) and non-GAAP EPS of $0.99. Though Oracle got a smaller-than-expected boost from currency swings, it still beat consensus revenue and EPS estimates of $11.18 billion and $0.94. EPS benefited from the fact that costs and expenses rose a mere 1%, and also from $5 billion worth of stock buybacks.

Shares initially rose a bit in response to Oracle's results. But just as they've done many times before, they sold off after the company released quarterly guidance on its earnings call. In pre-market trading on Wednesday, shares were down close to 4%.

Oracle guided for August quarter revenue to be up 1% to 3% in constant currency (CC), and dollar-based EPS of $0.67 to $0.69. With Oracle expecting forex to be a 1% headwind, the revenue outlook implies 0% to 2% dollar-based growth, which is below a consensus for 3.4% growth. EPS guidance, meanwhile, is below a $0.71 consensus.

On the bright side, Oracle predicts its CC-based revenue growth (3% in fiscal 2018) will accelerate in fiscal 2019. And it forecasts double-digit fiscal 2019 EPS growth in CC. The consensus for dollar-based EPS growth is at 7%. However, with co-CEO Safra Catz indicating Oracle will continue to aggressively repurchase shares, a lot of that EPS growth is due to come from buybacks rather than profit growth. And revenue growth of, say, 4% would still be well below the 11% and 8% growth rates that research firm Gartner expects for total enterprise software spending in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

Oracle shares down about 3% over the last 12 months, and have moved sideways since they surged to new post-dotcom bubble highs in late 2014.

Questionable Accounting Changes

The fact that Oracle no longer plans to break out its cloud revenue by itself could be heightening investor nervousness about the company's guidance. Before, there was a "total cloud revenues" line in Oracle's income statement, along with lines for cloud app (SaaS) revenue and cloud app platform and infrastructure (PaaS and IaaS) revenue. Now, SaaS, PaaS and IaaS revenue is grouped with traditional software license update and product support revenue, while another line item covers software license revenue.

Oracle's explanation for this: It recently launched (to much fanfare) a bring-your-own-license (BYOL) program that lets buyers of its flagship database and some complementary products use their licenses either on Oracle's cloud infrastructure or their on-premise infrastructures. For that reason, Oracle argues, licenses covered by the BYOL program can't be strictly defined as on-premise or cloud, nor can support revenue related to these licenses.

However, BYOL only directly impacts Oracle's PaaS cloud revenue. It doesn't appear to impact Oracle's SaaS revenue (the majority of its cloud revenue, as it was previously disclosed), and only impacts its IaaS revenue to the extent that clients choose to spend more on Oracle's cloud infrastructure services thanks to BYOL -- a concept that, it should be noted, was already supported by Microsoft (MSFT) and Amazon's (AMZN) cloud platforms.

Nonetheless, going forward, gauging Oracle's SaaS and PaaS/IaaS revenue is set to be a guessing game for analysts. Catz did disclose on the call that Oracle's total cloud revenue (based on its prior approach) amounted to $1.7 billion last quarter -- that's roughly in-line with consensus and represents 21% annual growth (down from the February quarter's 32%). But no promise was given to make similar disclosures going forward.

The Big Picture

Given what Oracle's sales guidance looks like, it's fair to wonder if cloud revenue growth will decelerate meaningfully in the August quarter as well. Co-CEO Mark Hurd did share encouraging growth rates for a handful of Oracle SaaS businesses, including its Fusion ERP and human capital management (HCM) apps and its midmarket NetSuite apps. However, growth rates for various other SaaS businesses, including its cloud CRM apps, weren't discussed.

Meanwhile, a long list of rivals -- including both traditional rivals such as Microsoft and SAP (SAP) , as well as cloud-centric players such as Salesforce.com (CRM) and Workday (WDAY) -- are reporting strong cloud growth rates. And we're less than a week removed from a JPMorgan downgrade of Oracle for which the firm cited a CIO survey that found the number of CIOs planning to cut their spending on Oracle was higher than the number recorded for any other company. We're also less than a month removed from a report by The Information that stated Oracle's use of its trademark high-pressure sales tactics to drive cloud deals is sparking a backlash among customers.

The market's harsh response in March to Oracle's February quarter report and May quarter guidance suggested Larry Ellison's company is no longer getting a pass for disappointing cloud-related numbers. Thus it shouldn't be a surprise that shares are selling off following the release of below-consensus guidance that doesn't provide a lot of clarity about what Oracle's cloud revenue will look like this quarter.

This column originally appeared Tuesday on Real Money, our premium site for active traders. Click here to get more great columns like this.

Source : https://www.thestreet.com/investing/oracle-soft-guidance-cloud-accounting-change-are-worrying-14627243

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