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Oracle selling $10 billion in bonds, giving hint to buying spree

There may be many more deals yet to come after Oracle's $5.3 billion purchase of Micros

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Oracle is selling US$10 billion in bonds, in a move that could signal the vendor is planning to ramp up its already steady pace of acquisitions.

The proceeds of the bond sale will be used for stock repurchases, payment of cash dividends, debt repayment and future acquisitions, including the pending $5.3 billion deal for Micros Systems, Oracle said in a statement Tuesday.

It's the second-largest dollar-denominated bond sale this year, after Apple's $12 billion bond sale in April, according to Bloomberg.

An Oracle spokeswoman declined to comment on the types of deals Oracle may pursue next, but it's a safe bet that it will stick mostly to software. Why? Because software is where the growth is, and that's what Oracle needs to satisfy Wall Street.

While Gartner recently cut its 2014 global IT spending outlook, its projections for enterprise software remained essentially unchanged. Software's growth rate also well outpaced other categories in the revised outlook, at 6.9 percent.

Here's a look at some of the acquisition targets Oracle may have in mind.

Going vertical in the cloud

Micros sells software and hardware to the retail and hospitality industries. It's a safe bet that future Oracle purchases will also target vertical markets, analysts said.

"There are a number of SaaS manufacturing ERP players out there, for instance Kenandy, KeyedIn Solutions, Plex and Rootstock, but there'd likely be work to replatform most of them to Oracle infrastructure," said independent enterprise software analyst China Martens via email.

Another possible area would be SaaS (software as a service) ERP (enterprise resource planning) for professional services, Martens added. "Does Oracle have everything it needs within Fusion Applications already or are there some elements it could acquire?"

Health care could be yet another avenue for Oracle to pursue, according to Forrester Research analyst Paul Hamerman. Oracle has already made significant investments in that market with the acquisitions of Relsys and Phase Forward several years ago, and might be ready to pull the trigger again.

Meanwhile, in its recent fourth-quarter and year-end earnings announcement, Oracle trumpeted that it had become the industry's second-largest cloud software vendor after Salesforce.com, with about a $2 billion annual revenue run rate.

Co-President Mark Hurd followed that up in an event with analysts saying Oracle intends to take the number-one slot. Given that Salesforce.com has estimated it will reach roughly $5.3 billion in revenue during its current fiscal year, Oracle may have to spend big on cloud acquisitions if it's going to close the gap.

Internet of things

Oracle hasn't made an overly strong effort to position itself as a player in the "Internet of things" market, but may use a splashy acquisition or two to get the job done.

Possible targets include Jasper, which sells an IoT software platform for connected devices. Jasper was recently valued at US$1 billion, which is no small sum but chump change for Oracle.

Jasper competes with the likes of Axeda and Aeris Communications, both of which could present additional acquisition targets. In any case, the acquired company would have to be aligned with Oracle's current IoT stack, which includes Java Embedded and Fusion Middleware, among other components.

IoT spans many areas of technology and raises new questions about the future of networking and security. Oracle could invest in these areas as well as part of an IoT push.

Big data and analytics

A big promise of IoT is the insights companies can draw from the oceans of data generated by sensors, mobile devices and other endpoints. The challenge is how to get those insights in front of line-of-business users quickly and presented in an easily understood, interactive manner.

This is the speciality of data-visualization providers such as Tableau and Qlikview. While Oracle already has visualization software of its own, an acquisition could be geared toward providing an offering to midmarket customers, rather than the large enterprises that use products such as Oracle Exalytics, Endeca and BI Foundation Suite.

On the other hand...

It's important to note that Oracle "doesn't need to borrow money to do an acquisition," said analyst Frank Scavo, managing partner of IT consulting firm Strativa. "Oracle has quite a bit of cash on hand." Indeed, Oracle had nearly $18 billion in cash and $21 billion in marketable securities as of May 31.

With the bond issue, "it may simply be that Oracle is doing a bit of financial engineering to take advantage of historically low interest rates," Scavo said. Oracle's announcement stated that the money might also be used for stock repurchases, which could help its share price, he added.

Still, with five acquisitions announced so far this year alone, expect Oracle to keep its merger-and-acquisition machine churning, whatever the financing method it chooses.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com



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